6 - 12, Favorite Books, Nature, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

The Entitlement Myth

A few weeks into his first-grade year, my formerly sweet and relatively cooperative son began acting sassy, cocky, and entitled.  Requests for help were met with groans and eye-rolls.  Limits were countered with sighs and “whatever“s.

We gave him the benefit of a doubt: Surely he was just imitating his older classmates’ rude behaviors.  Or maybe this was a misguided attempt at being more independent.  All my friends’ children were acting the same way, so it was probably a developmental phase.  Regardless of the reason, I dealt with entitled children all day long at work and  I wasn’t about to put up with the same behaviors from my son at home.

My husband and I gave Zachary a speech about behavioral expectations in our family.  He gave us a sigh and an eye-roll.  This was going to be harder than I thought…

A quick Google search on books about childhood entitlement led me to “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Children in an Over-Entitled World”.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book revolves around the principles of Positive Discipline, which I’ve used for years.

The first practical suggestion for countering entitlement is called “Mind, Body, and Soul Time” (MBST).  It requires each parent to set aside just ten minutes a day to “be fully present in mind, body, and soul and do whatever your child loves to do.”

Ten minutes a day sounded like a paltry amount of time until I started seeing the day from my son’s perspective.  From wake-up to bedtime, I was always busy with something – too busy to spend ten minutes one-on-one with him.

When he woke up, I was making breakfasts, packing lunch boxes, and getting everyone out the door on time.  Even though Zachary and I spent the day together at school, we were always surrounded by other children and adults.  Then at 5pm it was a mad rush to pick up his sister, drive home, get dinner made in 15 minutes, and sit down for ten minutes to eat as a family.  My husband would read the kids a book and tuck them in while I cleaned the kitchen, answered work emails, and planned the following day’s lessons.  Our life ran on a strict timetable and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find ten minutes to just be with him without sacrificing some essential task and sending the whole house of cards crashing down.

Three months after reading the book, we decided as a family to walk away from the madness of our lifestyle.  We shifted into the slow pace of unstructured homeschooling and discovered something we never had before: TIME.

Without the need to wake up at 6am, my son could go to bed later.  And without the need to hurriedly clean the kitchen and answer work emails, I could spend time with him.  And so, I started reading to him for an hour each night (his favorite thing to do).

Within a week, my husband pointed out, “Zachary is so much happier.”  It was true: my little boy began to laugh again.  Then, we noticed another change.  He became physically affectionate.  The child who had been pulling away from us began moving back into our lives.  He started folding his 4’4″, 70 lb. frame into our laps, requesting snuggles.  Or he’d jump into our arms and wrap his arms and legs around us in a full-body hug.

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And then, about a month in, we noticed it.  The entitlement, sass, and attitude had disappeared almost completely.  Requests for help were now met with an agreeable attitude; limits were either accepted or discussed rationally.  We even started hearing a phrase we’d never heard from him before: “How can I help?”

Sure, he has his moments, especially when he’s hungry or tired.  But overall, he’s a different child.

He’s a different child because I’m a different mother and we lead a different lifestyle.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that everyone should drop what they’re doing and homeschool.  But we need to stop justifying rudeness and entitlement as “normal” parts of growing up.  These behaviors are cries for help from little beings who are evolutionarily primed to connect.  So please, find those ten minutes, before it’s too late.

“The impulse to be good arises less from a child’s character than from the nature of a child’s relationships. If a child is ‘bad’, it’s the relationship we need to correct, not the child.” – Gordon Neufeld, “Hold On to Your Kids”

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On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.

Language Development, Montessori Materials, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science

Getting Back on the Montessori Wagon

With the birth or our daughter, I found myself slacking off in the “Montessori parenting” department.  Gone are the days when Zach and I could spend 30 minutes cooking together, and my patience and resolve are minimal these days due to sleep deprivation and meeting the needs of a tiny human 24/7.

When I started noticing that my 3-year old was acting a little like an entitled brat, I knew that the changes to his lifestyle were to blame; I realized I had to modify his environment, routine, and expectations to nip this issue in the bud.

After cutting myself some slack for the first six weeks of Nadia’s life (the hugely important symbiotic period), I decided to take some baby steps to provide Zach with the activities and stability he needs.  Here’s what I’ve done and how I’ve done it:

Practical Life:

Our meals are a lot simpler now that I have to juggle a baby, but I am trying to include Zachary in the meal prep at least twice a week.  It can be as simple as scooping frozen peas into a pot of water, but at least he feels like he’s contributed to the evening meal.  I’m also encouraging him to dress himself, because we had gotten into the habit during the school year of helping him with his clothes to speed up the process and be on time for school (yes, even Montessori teachers take shortcuts!)  He has been helping my husband with simple repairs around the house and has been helping me with things like bringing the box of wipes during the baby’s diaper change.

Responsibilities (aka, chores):

To help Zach feel less entitled and more of a contributing member of the family, while avoiding becoming a nag about chores, I wanted to set up a Responsibilities Chart.  I don’t have time to make my own, and online at first all I found were sticker charts that reward children for behaviors that shouldn’t need to be rewarded.  Then I found this AWESOME chart called “Do-N-Slide”.  FullSizeRender

It comes with a label for each day of the week, along with about two dozen pictures of child-friendly chores most three-year olds can do on their own.  I picked out the ones that were relevant to our home, Zach and I talked about them together, and then I invited him to choose five chores for one day.  He slipped them in his chart and as he completed them, he moved them from the “To Do” side to the “All Done” side.  Some chores he was already familiar with (like clearing the table) while others required a brief presentation and some patience (like putting the clean laundry in his closet).

I have to make sure the environment is set up for him to be successful (i.e. make sure the watering can is on the porch, leave his laundry in a basket in his room, and clear a space on the kitchen counter so he can successfully place his dish and cup there) but a little effort on my part goes a long way!

Toys and books:

Zach’s toys and books were getting out of hand.  We got him a few extra toys to keep him entertained while I cared for his sister, but they somehow all ended up on his limited shelf space, which made for some massive chaos!  He was being careless and messy, and it was stressing me out.  Seriously, who needs Duplos AND Legos?!  His books were in two massive piles in the bathroom and in his bedroom, and he would only request the same few books over and over.  FullSizeRender_1

After a particularly stressful incident involving clean-up (or lack thereof), I hit rock bottom and put about half his toys in a storage box.  I made careful choices about what to leave out: Legos, train set, wooden blocks, a numbers activity, a shapes activity, a science activity, a geography puzzle, a few crayons and blank paper, two airplanes and a bus, and the sandpaper letters.  I also carefully selected a few quality books and placed them facing outwards in his new bookshelf.

The change was positive: He began playing with the blocks and then the geometry material, both of which he hadn’t touched in weeks, and he also repeated the science experiment three times.  Eventually, he asked for one of the toys in the storage box, so I invited him to pick one toy to put away for each toy he wanted to take out.  This has worked beautifully and I’m a lot less stressed because there’s a lot less mess!

Montessori activities:

I chose to keep Zach home over the summer instead of sending him to Montessori summer camp so we wouldn’t have to rush in the morning and so he could bond with his sister.  While this was the right decision for us, it also meant that the burden of keeping him going on his burgeoning reading, writing and math skills would lay on me. He had *just* started reading three-letter words when school let out for the summer, but I know he still doesn’t know all the letters of the alphabet.

He was not the least bit interested in doing three-period lessons and kept rejecting any activity that reminded him of school, so a few days ago I introduced the “sound of the day”.  Based on whatever conversation we’re having as a family in the morning, I’ll pick a sound from the Sandpaper Letter box and feature it in a see-through napkin holder (for example, we had read a book about a “giggling gull” so the sound of the day became the “g”).  The entire family takes turns tracing the letter and we all think of words that start with that letter.  Then, throughout the day, I’ll casually bring Zach’s attention back to the letter ifFullSizeRender_2 he uses a word that starts with that same sound.  It’s worked BRILLIANTLY and is a low-stress way of introducing the sounds!

I also put together a simple “Float or Sink” activity with objects I had around the house, and have started introducing the concept of numbers through making and labeling Duplo stacks (in lieu of the Number Rods).  I’m working on other easy-to-make activities like matching hardware store paint chips at a distance and then later finding objects around the house that are the same color as the paint chips; assorted punching activities; and a couple of sewing activities.  I’ll try to post them as we try them out.

Getting back on the Montessori wagon after lowering our standards hasn’t been a walk in the park, but when I feel like throwing in the towel after butting heads with a three-year old I think of the long-term repercussions, and it gives me the strength to take a deep breath, walk away to regroup, and try again later.