Channeling Energy, Curiosity and Independence (Alternately titled: How I Got My Son To Fold the Laundry)

This is a somewhat ironic post because while I’m about to share a small victory that I’ve had recently with my oldest son, Theo, it comes on the heels of a very, very bad day with him.

But I guess that’s life.

Theo is a really amazing boy and he brings so much fun, creativity and adventure to my life. The downside of life with Theo, though, is that on some days his creative and adventurous mind lead him into anything and everything except for things that are appropriate for an almost four year old boy. He gets into everything. His desire to know how things work causes him to destroy them in his quest for understanding. His limitless mind leads him to go where he shouldn’t go and touch what isn’t his. And on top of all that, he has the energy level of a human pin ball machine.

Through time (and trial and error), I’ve come to realize that boredom + Theo = chaos/destruction/miserable mom. I’ve also come to understand that my controlling, Type A personality isn’t effective in channeling Theo’s energy. It only ends up making me more frustrated.

Instead, I’ve been consciously creating opportunities for Theo to have more responsibility throughout his day. When Theo is left to his own devices, by and large, he gets in trouble. However, if you give him a task (especially if it involves using his hands) he will zero in with lazer-like focus and, generally, do a pretty fantastic job. In the past, we’ve had success is doing little art projects together and in baking together in the kitchen, but I’ve gradually been increasing the difficulty of his responsibilities.

I’ve been amazed with the results.

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Theo is a typical toddler and eating is usually the last thing he wants to do. However, one of his new tasks is to help make his lunch. I always have a menu planned so he doesn’t come up with what he eats. Instead, I get everything out for him and tell him what to prepare and let him do the rest. Not only has he done a wonderful job of making his own lunches, but he is visibly proud of himself while he carries out these tasks. I’ve also noticed that he eats everything that he puts on his plate. Amazing.

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Another responsibility we gave Theo is to start folding laundry. Eventually, he will fold all his own laundry (while I continue to put it away), but for starters I’m just having him do towels. I found towels were an easy way to introduce him to laundry folding, and honestly, they are used so quickly that it is ok if they are put away less than perfectly folded ;-).

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Theo is also responsible at the dinner table for sitting next to and helping his little brother during meal time. This looks differently each day. At first, I was afraid that having them side by side would be a distraction for Theo. But again, you can see the pride and confidence on Theo’s face as he sits next to Oliver and assists him as the “big brother.” I also ask Theo to be the one to run and greet Oliver when he wakes up from his nap. I love hearing Theo run in and yell “good afternoon baby O!”

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As part of this whole additional responsibility effort, I’ve also tried to encourage Theo when he exhibits kind and gentle behavior. He is such a caretaker of his friends, and his stuffed animals, or “buddies,” are no exception.

Last week he came out of his bedroom with a few of them stuffed up his shirt. When I casually asked him what he was doing, he said he was “wearing his babies like mommy.” So now, he knows he is allowed to use my ring sling any time his buddies need some extra TLC :-).

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Really, this whole endeavor simply requires me to look for new ways that I can channel Theo’s independent and leadership qualities in productive, safe and positive ways. A few weeks ago we were out to lunch and he asked for a cookie. I told him he could get one if he was the one to go up, order it, and then pay. I’ll never forget that moment. Theo looked different to me as he completed his task. I’ve always known that he was capable and brave, but it was another thing entirely to watch him operate in the adult world all by himself. (Well, not really. I was sitting two feet away. But you know what I mean.)

If you really want to see your kids. I mean, really see them. Then give them a task you think is a little beyond them. Something you don’t think they are quite ready for. If you are like me, you will be amazed at how low we set the bar, and just how high they can reach.

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