That's the hot topic in many households this week, I'm sure. Our Ellie starts school next Monday, and is SO VERY EXCITED. Her bag's packed, her uniform's ready, her snacks are even dispensed into ziplock bags in a special "Ellie's School Snacks - Do Not Eat THIS MEANS YOU OWEN" box in the pantry. She's been breaking in her shoes, practicing her writing, and squealing with excitement every time we drive past her school.
Looking at my little big girl, I'm amazed by how far we've come from those early days.
But with this new stage come new issues - one of which has been brought to my attention a couple of times lately, in conversations with other parents of five-year-old girls... and in daily life with one of my own.
BIG GIRL ATTITUDE.
She certainly still means well, generally. She loves being helpful, loves feeling like she's done a job well, loves hearing she's making good choices. But.
I'm not going to tell you how to fix it - I think the answer to that might be "time", and no one wants to hear that. But I will let you in on three little things that have helped us...
1. Pocket Money.
Eep! Pocket money! As if all this talk of school wasn't enough to make me wonder if I'm old enough to start referring to myself as an "adult" (naaaaaahh), I also have a child who's old enough for POCKET MONEY!!! I understand everyone's different - some kids already have pocket money long before this age, while others still don't feel ready. And that's fine, of course.
We decided being old enough for school was a good indicator of being old enough for some other things. Ellie already has a handful of Ellie-specific chores (emptying the cutlery rack from the dishwasher, wiping down the sink after toothbrushing, setting the table for dinner, bringing her laundry hamper to the laundry on kid-clothes-washing days, etc), which she does pretty reliably and generally takes pride in - besides the occasional bit of interrupted game angst. So, next step: income.
Her first week's pocket money went on a Frozen purse (I matched her $2 for it), to keep future pocket monies. Next was a bell for her bike - we went to the shops, checked out prices, and she spent the next fortnight saving up enough for a $3 bell and $1 change. Such a proud moment. Now, she's saving up for "something good" - she hasn't decided what just yet. We're at $5 tomorrow.
This pocket money lark is all about teaching her responsibility, and that we value her contribution to the family. I'm not giving her money directly for doing a task - I'm not interested in bribing her to get work done - but in recognition of her new level of responsibility.
And it's interesting to see what an impact that awareness of Big Girl Responsibility is having on her Big Girl Attitude.
2. The List.
This one came about one morning when I was putting Theo into his highchair, and asked Ellie to fetch me a bib from his room. She was sitting watching cartoons (which I'd already told her it was time to finish watching); I was wrangling a writhing bag of snakes - I mean, eight-month-old - into a small, contoured seat. I figured she was the better candidate.
Did I get a bib, as requested? Oh, yep. Did I also get a bonus side-order of Big Girl Attitude?
WOAH, MAMA. Yes.
Apparently, I made her miss the end of Peg + Cat. (Actually, SHE made her miss the end of Peg + Cat, by standing in Theo's room shouting about what she was missing instead of GOING BACK AND WATCHING IT. But anyway.) And apparently, it wasn't just any old episode - it was THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ONE. There were tears. Arms were vehemently folded. Feet were stamped.
No way THAT'S okay. Theo had his breakfast, and then Ellie and I had a Talk. We talked about priorities. We talked about the importance of family vs. the importance of things on TV. We sat down in the office with a piece of paper, and brainstormed this list together:
And then we discussed what it meant, using examples:
"If you're playing a game, but I'm trying to explain something to you, which is more important?"
"If you're practicing your writing, but it's time to go to the meeting, what do you do?"
"If you're watching TV, but I need you to fetch something for Theo, WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT?"
She was spot on every time, of course. We also talked about the fact that when you look after the things at the top of the list, they tend to help take care of the things lower on the list. Think about it. It's true.
She LOVES her List. Later, I heard her giving the same examples, pretty much word for word, as she explained it to Liam. And from then on, AND THIS IS THE BIGGIE, if I ask her to do something, or remind her about her attitude... SHE GOES AND CHECKS HER LIST. And she comes back with the right choice, every time. Based on a list of priorities we decided on TOGETHER.
She's such a stickler for rules, her annoyance at having to prioritise something else over what she's doing is far outweighed by her enjoyment of making what she knows is a good choice. And with family in #2, Owen gets victimised WAY less.
Everyone's a winner.
3. That Time I Feared A Pinterest Fail But It Turned Out Awesome.
There are various versions of this lesson floating around Pinterest, where someone hurts someone's feelings, and someone else gets a smooth sheet of paper, crumples it up, then smoothes it out and points out that it's never completely smooth again.
There's some kind of "saying sorry doesn't mean it's okay" lesson there, or something.
So, this morning Ellie did THAT THING again, where she goes against everything I tell her a squillion times a day, and moves Theo without an adult present.
In this case, she stood him at his activity table, and then left him to it.
He's not exactly a pro at standing just yet.
Inevitably, he fell. I was out hanging washing, heard him crying, and came running. Ellie admitted what had happened, sighed, threw a "Sorry, Theo" his way, and wandered off. Again.
I sent her to her room - not for time out, but to wait for me. I told her I'd be there to talk to her when I'd sorted Theo out.
Hugged, comforted, and distracted with a small plastic frog, Theo sat in my lap while I talked to Ellie about why I ask her not to move him on her own, what could happen, what DID happen, etc, etc. Sighs, and the occasional bored "Yes, Mummy," were not quite the response I was looking for.
I sent her for a sheet of paper.
At this point, I should mention, I had NO IDEA what I was going to do. The crumpled-up-paper lesson from Pinterest was in the back of my mind, but in that moment I couldn't even remember clearly what that lesson WAS, let alone figure out how I was going to make it relevant to my five year old.
She returned with the paper, and I held it in front of her and talked about how we ask her not to move Theo without us. I talked about what happened this time, and as I spoke I scrunched the paper up into a tight little screwed-up ball right in front of her.
She couldn't look away.
Then, I talked about how she'd said sorry to Theo. I opened out the paper and laid it on the floor in front of us. She stared at it, and watched me smooth my hands over it as I talked about how saying sorry hadn't changed the fact that he'd been hurt.
Her hand slid out, and gently ran over the creased paper in an attempt to help me smooth it.
I reminded her that this was not the first time something like this had happened. I talked about how she might say sorry at the time, but if she goes away with no intention of changing and does it again later, the paper just remains crumpled.
At this stage, one bit of my Mummy-brain was ringing the "Don't pile on the guilt!!!" alarm. I was still very much winging it. And I was very aware that I did NOT want to be teaching her "If you make a mistake, there's nothing you can do to make it right."
Where was I going with this?
In the next moment, That Thing happened; the Thing that makes me glad I wing things, because it leaves me open to this kind of inspiration. These words were not mine...
"But do you know," I said, "what the Lord does with this piece of paper?"
Ellie shook her head. I picked up the crumpled piece of paper, and threw it over my shoulder. She watched it fall to the floor.
"He throws it away," I said. Ellie looked astonished. "And HE GIVES US A NEW ONE. A nice, fresh, smooth piece of paper, to start again, like it never happened. That's what happens when he forgives us."
"So," I said, "we might make mistakes and bad choices sometimes." I picked up the paper and crumpled it again. "And we always say sorry, not because we should, but because we really are sorry and really want the other person to feel better." I opened out the crumpled paper again.
"But the Lord knows when we REALLY MEAN IT. And if we REALLY MEAN IT - that we're sorry, that we want the other person to feel better, that we don't want to do that again..." The paper floated to the carpet of my daughter's bedroom. "He'll always, ALWAYS give us a fresh piece of paper.
"That's what it means to repent, Ellie. And that's how it feels to be forgiven."
That piece of scrunched-up paper is stuck up on her wall, right next to her List of Priorities. I walked past her room earlier, and she was standing in there, looking at them and whispering to herself.
Good things, I hope.
There are no easy answers to the Big Girl Attitude thing. But Big Girl Responsibility, Big Girl Priorities, and a regular dose of Big Girl Talks do seem to help. The rest comes down to time, love, and oodles of patience.
I think maybe the Lord feels the same way about us.