Two weekends ago, we had quite the experience here in our house. For a few months now, we've been stressing to the kids the idea of cleaning up when you're done with something, putting your things away before you get anything else out, and so on. Well, needless to say, it's not a popular concept with the youngling's, and their room was A MESS! So, Saturday morning, I asked them to go up and clean their rooms. I had some chores to do, so I did my stuff while they did theirs. Occasionally, someone would come downstairs with a few toys and take them down to the basement, so it seemed they were making some progress. I asked them a few times, and was greeted with "we're doing good" style answers.
Well, nearly three hours had passed by the time I was finally done with all the stuff I had to do. So, I figured they must be almost finished, and I would go up to encourage them on the last few things. HOWEVER, when I got to the boys' room, it looked virtually the same as it had before they started. I was MAD! I had already told them several times before, "If I have to clean up your toys, they're going into a trash bag." So, I stayed true to my promise, and went straight back downstairs to get the Hefty's. I started cramming toys, books, cards, and whatever else that was not where it belonged into the trash bags. I had filled two kitchen size bags before the boys' floor was clear. Nice.
In the meantime, Isaac had realized that there was no saving his own toys, but that Meagan was also going to lose her toys if they were all over by the time I got into her room. So he took it upon himself to go into his sister's room and start cleaning it. He put away as much as he was able to before I got in there. He had even tried to focus on her favorite things first, so that she wouldn't lose those. What a sweetheart. Even so, I filled one and a half bags of toys (mostly big stuffed animals) out of Meg's room as well.
When I had hauled them all downstairs, I asked Isaac to come down. I thought, since he had gone out of his way to help his sister, then before I took the toys away, I would let him choose three of his own out of the bags to put back where they belonged. When I told him, he got a big smile of relief on his face, and he started looking through the bags. "There's my Star Wars computer." And "I really like my Pokemon cards." And "I don't want to lose my books." He looked and he looked. Then he got quiet and stopped. When I asked what was the matter, he looked at me and said, "Mommy, can I give three things to Sebastian and Meagan instead? I know Sebastian won't want to lose his stuff, and Meagan will be sad to lose all this." I thought for a moment, and then told him that if he wanted, he could choose 3 of Sebastian's things and 3 of Meagan's, but that would mean he was choosing not to take any of his own things back. He didn't even flinch. He immediately chose three things of his brother's and three of Meg's and ran up the stairs, excited to give them their toys back. I was so touched, and at the same time, it broke my heart.
Later, after we had had several talks about respect and obedience, I decided to try once more to reward Isaac for his thoughtful and unselfish behavior. I once more called him into the living room, and told him how proud I was of him for being so nice to his brother and sister. I told him that I wanted him to be able to choose 3 of his own things as well. Any 3 things he wanted out of the bag. He started digging and searching through the bags once more. Then he looked up and asked, "Any 3 things? It doesn't matter whose they are?"
I was almost in disbelief. Really? But I said, "You can choose only 3 things out. So they can be 3 of your own, 3 of your brother's, 3 of your sister's, whatever. But only 3 this time." I even tried to encourage him to choose 3 of his own, but in the end, he chose one of Sebastian's toys, one of Meagan's and only one of his own. So they had each gotten 4 things back, and he had gotten only one as a reward for his selfless acts. But that was the end of it. There was no more choosing toys out of the bags. He had made his decision, and that was that.
We stored the toys for about 4 or 5 days, and each day, we talked to them about respect - respect for Mommy by obeying the first time they are asked to do something, respect for each other by using kind words and actions, respect for their things by taking care of them and putting them away, and on and on. By the fifth day, they had definitely got the point. So, we then had a discussion about forgiveness and mercy - how they had done nothing to earn their toys back; how they had broken the rules, and the consequence should have been to loose all their toys; but that Mommy & Daddy had talked, and we had chosen to forgive them and be merciful on them by letting them have a chance to put all of their lost toys back where they belonged. So that night after dinner, they put all their toys away - and it only took them about 20 minutes instead of 3 hours. Hmmm....
Anyway, we still wanted to really honor Isaac for what he had done, so we decided to let him choose a special dinner date. He got to pick any restaurant for us to go enjoy dinner as a family. His choice.... CHUCK E. CHEESE. So tonight, we headed to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner. And they had a blast! And he understands how proud we are of him for his actions, for loving his brother and sister so much that he chose their happiness over even his most favorite toys. For a six-year-old that is a pretty big deal!