Make Problems Smaller


Does your child ever flounder with a task because it seems too monumental to overcome? Whenever any of us faces a task that seems too large to bear, we struggle to even get started. As adults, we can compartmentalize our tasks so they don’t seem so overwhelming. We may have four hampers overflowing with dirty laundry and think it’ll never get done. But after we sort, we can see it as 5 loads, split over 2 days, for example. ┬áNot so bad.

Most of the time, our kids don’t have this ability to compartmentalize. If they are faced with a huge task, they freeze at the mere sight of it. This typically comes into play with clean-up. I don’t require my boys to play with one toy at a time. I like the creativity they find in putting a Lego guy into a dinosaur’s mouth, for example. But when their free play time is over, they know they need to clean it all up.

If they can’t compartmentalize, I’ll talk them through it. I’ll say, first clean up the Legos. Then clean up the cars, and so on. Taking it step by step, we get it all done.

But recently, I noticed that the Legos were becoming too much to bear, even for me. We have a giant bin of Legos, but my boys would want to keep all of their current favorites out of the bin. Any time I put one of their favorites in the bin, they acted like I put it in the garbage. It was lost forever in their minds. The bin was too big to dump out, and there were too many to sort through to find that one little Lego.

Rather than having their favorites spread out all over the playroom, we agreed that a Ziploc bag would work. But then that bag got to be a problem. My boys got lazy with sorting their Legos and would throw any Lego that was on the floor into the bag. They clearly weren’t keeping just their favorites in that bag. But we still didn’t have a solution.

That is, until recently, when I was so fed up by it all that I dumped out the entire bin and sorted out the Legos that I thought were their favorites. They received two lunch boxes for Christmas, and they were perfect. I put all the minifigures in one box and all the specialty pieces in another box. A smaller, third box holds all of the tools and weapons (that I may take away entirely).

The rest of the plain Legos are in the bin, put away in my office. They aren’t allowed to have them. You see, I’m making sure the amount of Legos they have are sitting with them happily in their funnels. They can easily clean up these three boxes of Legos. They can easily sort them and put them away without it seeming like a monumental task. I’ve made our problem much smaller, so much so that it’s no longer a problem.

There have been one or two occasions when they ask for the other Legos, and I simply say no. They can’t have them back until I see a good two weeks or so of consistent Lego clean-up.

This idea of making problems smaller applies to many other areas of our lives as well. Say a child has a nasty attitude after watching an hour of TV. Simple. You cut it back to 30 minutes or take it away altogether for a little while. Say every time you bring out playdough, bits of it end up all over the floor. You cut the amount of playdough in half until the child can manage it better. Find a way to cut down any problem that seems to lie outside the child’s funnel until it’s no longer a problem.