July 15, 2014

A Minimalist Perspective on Entitlement

I was talking with a few friends the other day about raising kids and all the "stuff" we accumulate and had a few points I thought it might be helpful to post.

  • Ownership vs. Stewardship: my friend's husband was saying kids need to have their own things so they learn to take ownership. I understand where he's coming from, but I respectfully disagree. I think structure or rules can build in that that principle, without having to actually own a thing. In our family we tell the kids that everything if "the family's" and that we let them use them. For example: Ethan's bed isn't "his," it is the family's, but he is using it for now. And when he gets older it may go to Nellie. HE knows this and is fine with it, but he still feels stewardship for his bed because he has to fix his covers to make his bed look nice, so his room feels clean and peaceful. And he loves this and does well with this principle--therefore still taking ownership, without entitlement. Click here for a nice simple video about stewardship.
  • Responsibility: the same example above shows you can have responsibilities for things, without ownership. Another example is Ethan's quiet-time shelf. He has a few library and personal books on one shelf and box of blocks and craft box on the shelf below. These are his responsibility to take care of each day between 12-2 when he takes a quiet time by himself. He plays with them and puts them back, but knows they are the family's (or library's) and will disappear if he isn't responsible with them. I always tell him "If you're aren't responsible with that, you will lose it." That's our rule and it smashes the need for entitlement if they aren't using it well.
  • Awareness & Gentleness: to go along with treating things carefully. I fully believe society has so much of everything that we care for nothing. Not really, but how many times do we think, "I'm out of pens (or chapstick). I should go buy a big box so I stop losing them?" What about our kid's coloring book collection or crayon box, my goodness! Stuffed animals? When we are surrounded by tons, we treat things like they are of less worth. Ethan gets a small box with a few crayons (no duplicates). If he breaks them on purpose he loses them. He has two coloring books. I think he has 10 books out right now (rotate through as needed). This practice helps him more fully appreciate and take care of what he has. Otherwise I'd just find piles of everything everywhere with no concern. This is especially true for cheap dollar store junk that breaks easily--certain plastic things in general too. Kids need deep relationships with a story or a toy to build their imagination and to deepen their understanding of the world. Too much = surface level engagement (where the entitlement battle wages on with the sense of wanting "more, more, more"). So another rule we do is one toy at a time (sometimes it's two or three if he's using blocks with cars and such, but the idea is put one toy away if you move onto another).
  • Sharing: we have a great little set of wooden bowls from a garage sale i found randomly. I had no idea what I'd use them for, but they felt they made sense in my view of what I wanted to fill my kitchen with (besides plastic junk). And now I love them! Whenever people come over, or everyday for snack time Ethan and Nellie share a bowl of food from one (usually pirate booty puffs--their favorite). It definitely makes lunch more of a unifying experience, but the kids feel happy, rather than entitled to their own individual portions of everything. And my kids are now good sharers, because they had to learn to be. Sharing over entitlement.

So, now envision a typical moment in your daily life with your kids:say  lunch. How can we take that experience and get rid of "entitlement issues" using these thoughts?
  • Place Settings: cloth napkins Ethan can get from the kitchen drawer when he needs it, and putting his plate, cup, etc. on the counter by the sink when finished. In fact, his cup has a hook that he can hang it from so he knows where to get it and can use the same one over and over. These things give him a sense of responsibility. He also knows to treat them with care because he doesn't have tons of cups to choose from. If he breaks his, then he's at a loss. (Think of Little House on the Prairie...they were happy to even have a tin cup between the siblings. And we usually have our cupboards overflowing with way too many options. Simplifying is sweet and gratifying.)
  • Sharing Bowl: as mentioned above. We also have some great wooden veggie trays that we put veggies in, or stacker lunch options with toothpicks and we all eat from it together. And for Friday Family Fun nights we try to eat fun dinners we can make and share together: pizza, sushi, nachos, popcorn, etc. Events should be unifying, instead of separate with the feeling of "entitlement."
  • Food Options: kids dont always want everything I make, so we do stacker lunches a lot. I put out a few healthy options, but let the kids stack together on toothpick kabobs what they want in their order, just with a few rules on not taking too much cheese or something. So kids feel empowered to create and enjoy lunch together, but aren't telling me what to give them and bossying me around like they are entitled. 
Kids aren't the boss, though at times they think they are. As we can get away from an "entitlement" focus to a stewardship focus, I feel our kids will feel more grounded and secure to be who they are and to live in greater unity with those around them. I can't say we also have the focus as best we could, but these things sure help!

For more ideas on how to implement some of these things, read my post on Simplicity Parenting (and decluttering kid's toys).

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