I don’t know if it’s the same in your community, but this year, the floodgates seemed to have reopened on kid-friendly October activities around here. Every Fall Festival, Halloween hoe-down, and birthday party imaginable seems to have happened this past month. 

Along with all this merriment, you might also be experiencing – as we certainly have been – a loss of order and control in the household. There have been more sugar-fueled meltdowns…missed bedtimes…power struggles over the smallest of things…and, worst of all, a dreaded sense of entitlement has settled like a cloud in our home. 

If this sounds familiar and I’m not the only parent riddled with guilt today, please read on… 

Take a deep breath…

First of all, it’s completely normal for kids to test limits at this time of year where regular routines and rules can be thrown into upheaval by all the joy. This month, we’re offering a few simple and effective ways to kindly and firmly put order back in your household.

Freedom Within Limits

While the instinct might be to take away the very thing that’s causing the strife (i.e., confiscate all that candy), you may actually be setting yourself up for more meltdowns or power struggles going forward. A child that experiences you overpowering them will most likely fight back for control. After all, wouldn’t you take issue with someone swooping in and removing something by force that you were in the midst of enjoying?

Instead, try the magic of “Freedom within Limits”. When it comes to candy, this could mean the child can have the freedom of their choice of a sweet treat, and make the decision of when to enjoy it, within respectful limits. In a calm moment, you might try: “Boy, you really scored quite the haul on Halloween. Let’s talk about how you can enjoy it while keeping your tummy feeling good and your body healthy. You may choose one piece each day. You can have it right after school, alongside dinner, or 20 minutes before it’s time to start our bedtime routine. I wonder what you’ll choose to have tonight and when you’ll plan to enjoy it?” 

Freedom within Limits can be applied just about anywhere – and the scope will depend on the age of the child. The idea is to give them a positive sense of power with boundaries that maintain respect and dignity for everyone in the family. For a teen, this might mean the freedom of choosing their bedtime, paired with the respectful limits that they must be in their room by a certain hour with no showering or loud music after 10pm, and the responsibility of waking themselves up and being out the door on time. For someone under 5, this might mean they can choose their outfit from a particular drawer or rack of clothes deemed weather- and activity-appropriate by you ahead of time. 

Encourage Social Interest

Does it feel like everything has become “Me! Me! Me!” all of a sudden? There’s hope. All people have an innate desire to make a difference for others with their words and actions. Your kid comes equipped with this inborn desire, too. There are many ways, both large and small, to gently orient your whole family toward a sense of community. Engaging in one’s surroundings, and considering the common good above one’s own interest and desires is the fast route out of entitlement and the on-ramp toward greater mental health. Learning to live cooperatively with others starts with what we experience at home. 

If it feels like your kids have tipped into a sense of entitlement, save the lectures about caring  and just start doing it. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask family members if there is anything you can do to help them with a task today.
  • Ask someone in the grocery store or pharmacy if they need help reaching something or carrying their items to the car. 
  • Make a simple card or treat for a neighbor and walk over together to deliver it.
  • Make a family call or video chat with someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Go through clothes and toys you are no longer using and talk about how others can benefit from donations.
  • Ask if there’s something you think their teacher might find helpful in the classroom and go get it together.
  • Make small bags with basic hygienic supplies and nonperishable snacks. Have them at the ready in your car to give to anyone you see along your route that is asking for help. 

Kids are always watching. Seeing small gestures throughout daily life goes farther than a lecture ever will. 

Take Time for Training

A kid that’s misbehaving is not a kid that needs to be sent to their room, given a harsh lecture, or receive a punishment. We can try all of those things, but they tend to be less effective than the very opposite: pull them close, involve them in something useful, and teach them a new skill. 

Now is the perfect time to train kids in an age-appropriate skill. A few ideas:

  • Halloween’s over!
    • Demonstrate how to wash and store a Halloween costume differently from other clothing because of beading or other accessories.
    • Talk about the importance of removing batteries from decorations that will go into storage and practice this job together
    • Experience working with spatial relations by showing how to pack away summer clothes into storage
  • Thanksgiving’s coming! 
    • Teach how to plan and portion a large meal depending on the number of people attending.
    • Research communities in need at this time of year. Brainstorm ways to help together.
    • Ask your kid to teach you something about the origins of the holiday in the United States — they probably teach it a bit differently now than they did when we were kids!
  • The Winter Holidays are right around the corner!
    • Talk about holiday traditions and what new roles they may want to take on this year. 
    • Practice creating a budget for gift-giving.
    • Brainstorm things you could buy or make for each member of the family. 
    • Teach the art of writing a thank-you note. 

We hope you can pick up a suggestion or two from the above that will fit for you and what your family is experiencing right now. 

The Bottom Line

Remember, children are learners, first and foremost. If their schedules, attitudes, or behaviors seem out of whack right now, take a deep breath. It’s an opportunity for learning, a chance to practice and improve. Everything is an opportunity for growth if we choose to see it that way.