Nipping frustration in the bud

I’m going to take a break from my mood boosting vitamins series to talk about something that’s been going on in our lives this week.

Early last week, I got really frustrated about something. As part of my efforts to lead a more positive lifestyle, whenever I find myself getting really frustrated about something I stop and think of ways to fix it. I do this with anyone, really, whether it’s my son, my husband, my friends or myself. If you don’t deal with frustration, it can easily poison your life and the lives of those around you. Often, when you stop to think about these things, the problem isn’t actually as big as it may seem.

What got to me this time was Steven’s lack of respect for his property. He doesn’t clean up his toys and he doesn’t care if they get destroyed or lost. As he’s gotten older, he’s asked for increasingly expensive toys, and the more he has the worse he gets at cleaning them up and the less he seems to care about them getting lost or broken.

Earlier this year, we gave him an allowance. This was more for our budgeting than anything else. If we don’t plan our spending, we spend hundreds on toys and candy before we realize it, so we started making one trip a month to the toy store and allowing him to spend a certain amount.

Part of our goal worked. He understands that he has a limited amount of money and he has to think about what to spend it on, and we keep our budget in check. But these toys still end up strewn across the floor, chewed (a recent problem that oddly didn’t exist when he was younger), torn, lost, covered in markers, glue, sparkles, tissue paper, dried up playdough… He doesn’t take care of them, and he sees no value in them. If I throw one out because it’s destroyed, he doesn’t care, his immediate response is “next allowance, I will buy a new one”.

This attitude and lack of respect for his possessions has been the source of a lot of frustration and heated discussions in our household lately. So, what are we going to do about it? How can we turn this around, stop yelling at each other and avoid frustration in the future?

The first step was to clear out his room. We’ve been telling him for a long time that if there’s too much for him to clean up, he obviously has too many toys. So we threw out anything that was damaged and donated anything that he hasn’t played with in a while. Since his interests are pretty limited these days, they happen to fit neatly into categories that are easily sorted. So now that all the extra stuff he’s accumulated over the years is gone, he has no trouble picking it all up himself.

This process was admittedly upsetting for my husband and I. We knew it had to be done, but until we got in there I don’t think we realized just how much was going to be thrown out. Donating is one thing, we both love knowing that something we no longer need is going to be used by someone else. We even have a facebook group of friends and relatives where we post things that are still usable but that we have no use for, so that whoever will use it can come get it free. But throwing things out has always been hard for us, and we watched a lot of dollars go into that garbage can today. However, the most unnerving part, the part that I think kept us going, was that Steven didn’t once complain about things that were going in the garbage or the donation bin. We kept him involved to try and teach him something, but even watching half his room dumped into a garbage bin didn’t seem to phase him.

Which brings me to the next step, which is still a work in progress, so I’ll post more about it later when it’s completed. We’ve been having conversations as a family to write up some chore charts. One for Steven and one for my husband and I. These will hopefully solve a few frustrations:

  • It will give Steven something productive to do. He’s always (thankfully) been very good at entertaining himself and keeping out of the way when we’re busy with something, but he’s also keen to help out and gets upset when everyone is working and he doesn’t have a job.
  • It will give Steven an opportunity to be more independent. Maybe if he has a checklist I won’t always have to tell him to do everything? Maybe.
  • Steven will have to earn his allowance. This will hopefully solve the whole toys-have-no-value problem.
  • Us adults will get our chores done too. I have to admit that there are days in my house when I’m washing yesterday’s dishes while dinner cooks so we have something to eat off of, when I get to the last pair of underwear before realizing that I need to do laundry, when I forget to run the garbage out to the curb. Hopefully having a checklist on the wall will help with that.

The checklist is still a work in progress, but I’m super excited for it. I think it will make this household run a lot smoother and make all of us happier by resolving a few frustrations.