I’ve been spending a lot of time this week thinking about challenges and entitlement.
A few days ago, I decided to nudge along some creative thinking when the fighting was driving me insane. I called all the kids to the table and set out toothpicks and marshmallows. I set a timer on the microwave and told them that this was a contest- they had until the timer beeped to build. Whoever had the tallest tower won.
The first few minutes had me patting myself on the back with a smug smile on my face. Surely this is a parenting win. I got them off the screens, and into some critical thinking and problem solving. And best of all, they weren’t fighting.
Halfway through, there was a sudden shift.
One of the kids began whining that the materials were sub par. In school, they did this exercise with gumdrops and the towers weren’t floppy. Another kid began asking every 3 seconds if they could just eat the marshmallows instead.
I tried to summon my inner Mary Poppins and encourage them to keep building. I said stability was a problem to overcome, how could they use the materials at hand to make the towers not fall? And no, you can’t eat your materials until the contest is over.
I began to really study my kids as they worked, and offer encouraging remarks. I began to notice their differences in how they respond to challenges, how they react to perceived stress, and how they problem solve. My oldest was stressed out, and kept snapping at everyone. I see myself in her more every day. She had a very specific vision and she was very frustrated that she couldn’t achieve that to perfection. In her world, if you can’t do it perfectly, you shouldn’t even start. I tried to gently push her to keep trying, and to adapt her design concept to fix any flaws she found. It doesn’t have to be the most beautiful to be stable and tall. She kept pushing herself to make her tower taller without stopping to make a plan or correcting any flaws she discovered along the way and getting more and more upset at any result less than perfect.
My son wasn’t phased by his constantly toppling tower. He just kept adding more toothpicks, immersed in the sensory experience. In fact, most of the time I think he lost sight of the goal and wasn’t trying to build it higher. Instead, he was quite entertained by making it wider and seeing how many toothpicks each marshmallow could handle. He is the total opposite of his sister. He just goes with the flow, not wasting a moment’s energy on negativity or stress. It is what it is. Conversely, he also didn’t care at all to even try to make his tower tall, his comfort zone is in playing it safe. If you don’t actually try to compete, you won’t ever lose. He made a very complicated and sprawling horizontal contrast instead.
My youngest used the toothpicks to eat the marshmallows. Oh, well.
The timer went off.
My daughter was frustrated, my son perked up and asked if it was time to eat. We measured their towers, and even when hers fell over, it was still taller. We all talked a little bit about what worked and what didn’t, and what they might want to do different next time. To my surprise, they asked to do it again. A rematch.
I reset the timer and they went back to work. My son was relaxed the entire time, going right back to his original sprawling design. My daughter kept looking back at her first tower, and she switched up her process from squares to triangles. Halfway through the challenge, I gently reminded my son that this was about building it taller, and he tentatively started on a second level. My daughter was beginning to get stressed out again, yelling at her brother if he so much as breathed on the table to make it wobble. She has a competitive edge. Normally, she just wings it instead of starting with a plan, focusing only on racing to the finish line. But this time, after our talk, I could see her making revisions. Pulling out toothpicks that were wobble and trying a new placement instead. They both improved significantly.
How does this relate back to entitlement?
It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. Challenges are scary. It’s so much simpler to stay in your comfort zone. If I don’t present them with challenges and encourage them to problem solve on their own, how will they ever learn to be independent and do things for themselves? And if they don’t do anything for themselves, I’m going to end up with entitled children who expect everyone to do everything for them, because they think it’s just too hard for them.
Here’s the rest of the week- full stories are on instagram.