Meanest Mother in the World Part 2
My meanest mother in the world project is complete. I haven’t given up the title, I still plan to be the meanest mother in the world (second generation, my own mother was the first). For those of you wondering whether or not my MMITW project worked, my answer is YES!!! And No…
Yes, taking away all of my children’s toys succeeded in getting their attention and showing them that I meant business. The first few days were hard as they consistently had their newly ‘earned’ toys taken away again for fighting. The light turned on after about the first week when they realized this game was going to last longer than they had originally thought it would. I began noticing C7 pulling himself out of a fight with K10 by saying something to the effect of, “K10, let’s be nice so we can earn a toy back”, or “DON’T WORRY MOM WE ARE JUST PLAYING, we’re just playing, right K10?” I understand fully that all kids fight (to a degree) and I never imagined I would be able to completely eliminate arguments. I did, however, hope to teach my children that fighting was not the best WAY to solve a problem, nor is it the best method for getting what you want. Kids need to learn conflict resolution and that is exactly what I started seeing.
The other major improvement I observed was in the kids’ willingness to complete chores (more on this later). There was no more whining, complaining, or “can’t we do it later?”’s. The facts were simple, you complete the list of responsibilities or you don’t get to play with friends and you don’t get to earn a toy back. END. OF. STORY. I never had to ask twice for the kids to get bathed and dressed; clean their rooms, practice the piano, or empty the dishwasher. One simple reminder was all they needed. Hallelujah!
Now you’re wondering what part DIDN’T work?
From start to finish this project lasted for 3 full weeks. The first week they earned back 1 or 2 things, the second week they were up to 4 or 5, and the third week they had about 12 each. By this point they really had all of their favorites (plus some random things I NEVER thought they would care to have back… kids are odd). By the end of week 3, school had started and toys were of little necessity in our new daily routine. The motivation was dwindling by the day. The chores were still being completed but I realized that after they returned home from school they completely forgot to ask to pick an item from the list. They were contented playing with their handful of favorites and spending time with friends after long hours of learning. I was satisfied with their lack of interest in wanting to receive a toy because, for the most part, everyone appeared to be happy. It quickly became obvious to me that this wasn’t going to work as a long term project. Perhaps if I had started in July we could have made it work for a longer period of time, but with school starting it just didn’t seem to be as necessary.
As the productiveness of having the toys shoved in the guest bedroom diminished I became anxious to clean up. It nearly drove me mad not having the toys where they belonged. My OCD’ness was put to the test every time I walked into the basement or opened the kids’ closets and saw empty shelves. I decided it was time to move on. I debated in my mind all day how to best get back to ‘normal’ life. I considered waiting until the kids were in school and then putting their toys back where they lived, but that seemed like a lot of work for me. In the end I decided we would make this a family affair and everyone would help. I sat the kids down and explained to them that it was time to put their stuff away. I made sure they understood that the rules had not changed, they were still to clean their rooms, make their beds, practice the piano and do the dishes EVERY DAY! If they wanted to play computers or watch a TV show they could ‘earn’ that right by doing 1 job for every 20 minutes of electronic time but they could not exceed 40 minute per day. I tried not to make a very big deal out of the rules; I simply informed them that things would stay the same as they had been for the previous 3 weeks. I heard NO complaints.
During our cleaning up hour I mentioned to the kids that they had far too many toys and that I felt it would be of value for them to pick out 3 toys each that they could donate to good will or they could just let me pick out a few things to donate later. At first they refused to give me the power to choose which toys to be rid of but as we were cleaning, putting away, and discussing the fate of each item it became obvious this was a much too difficult of a task for 2 young children who were struggling with issues of possessiveness and selfishness. I was tempted to get angry and call them both little brats. But I kept my cool and simply told them not to worry about it and that I would take care of it later. 3 trash bags later (1 for trash, 2 for good will) I solved the problem. They haven’t noticed yet, but I have full intentions of telling them just what I did come Christmas time. (This is where I smile with my evil witchy sneer).
So, the big question now is ‘where do we go from here’. It is entirely possible that this little experiment was of far more value to me than it was to the kids. I learned a lot about school aged children that I just didn’t understand before (hey, give me a break! I’ve never done this before!!!). The single most important lesson I learned was that kids need responsibility; they NEED TO WORK! When the kids started fighting the first thing that happened was they lost their most recently earned back toy. When the fighting continued they were given additional jobs to do. Almost without fail they came back from completing their jobs feeling happy, non-confrontational, and proud of their hard work. They realize how much more rewarding it is to work and they will often continue giving themselves additional jobs (one day C7 was told to wash the door into the garage, 30 minutes later he came back and told me he had washed every door in the house).
Now and then they will complain about being required to do extra work, looking to blame someone else for their bad behavior. I simply explain to them that they will stay in their room until the assigned work is complete (no IFS. ANDS. Or BUTS about it!). It never takes them long to get up and get busy. They like having control over their lives and they soon begin to understand that following the rules actually GIVES them freedom, rather than taking it away. Fighting = extra jobs but, Doing jobs = freedom to play. And, in the end I clean doors out of it!
Kids, like adults, are happiest when they have the freedom to make their own choices and when they can feel proud of their accomplishments. However, the most valuable lesson they will learn is that their decisions have consequences. Chores, chores, and more chores provide them with the freedom to choose AND it teaches them that their actions have consequences. The two most valuable concepts a young child can learn.
I dare say my own children still have plenty of behavior issues to work out but I am feeling more confident that they are on the right path. I struggle, personally, with being consistent. Sometimes there are simply other things I’d rather worry about than enforcing the rules, but I see a drastic difference when I fail to be a reliable law enforcer. So, here we go, ever moving onward!
2 Great parenting Books!