It started when my oldest was almost 4 and her sister was still an infant. Somehow, we found ourselves in Pottery Barn Kids just after Thanksgiving. Like any other 3-year-old, she wanted everything in the store. Given that not a single item was within our budget, I had to use our usual line of: “We are just browsing not buying today. There is nothing on our list from here.” But there was one thing she became obsessed with. It was a “cookie party box”, which had everything you needed to host the party: invitations, aprons, a few cookie cutters, etc. All for the low price of a thousand dollars, more or less.
I COULDN’T DO IT.
I thought the lesson here was consistency in how we approached any store, and early fiscal management awareness. We made it home without the box, but she was not deterred. She told her father all about the magical kit in which a party appears, dumped out her piggy bank (which covered 15% of the cost), and announced that she was putting the box on the ,family meeting agenda. My husband shrugged and said, “why not just get it?”
The wheels started turning in my head, and I started to see this challenge for what it was, yet another opportunity to build executive functioning skills.
(Executive functioning, without getting into a lengthy definition, includes many cognitive and behavioral skills that the prefrontal cortex part of the brain is responsible for- in our kiddos under the age of 5, these may include delay of gratification, planning, organizing, goal setting, inhibition (impulse control), emotional regulation, etc.)
We discussed it at the family meeting and decided yes, along with her contribution, we would pony up the rest and throw the party. I silently ticked off in my head all the skills she was already practicing (money management, delay of gratification, logical reasoning, communication skills, goal setting).
I knew we needed special time to connect together and given that the baby was usually attached to me at all other hours of the day, the only time we had was when her sister was sleeping. Throw in the need for laundry, working from home on my days “off”, making sure there was a plan for the next food cycle, and maybe on a glorious day, time for my own nap. That usually only left us one nap of the day, a few days a week, where we could have uninterrupted time together. This became cookie party time. We set the goal and worked backward, a little bit each session. Setting the date on the calendar, creating and writing the guest list, decorating and mailing the invitations, planning the menu, shopping for the ingredients, baking the cookies. Finally, YES, finally hosting this crazy event (aka: neighborhood chaos) was spread out over many days and weeks. Over those weeks, we both grew so attached to the project.
I continued to be amazed at what she was capable of with practice: organization, planning, waiting, focus, and problem-solving.
The cookies were really ancillary in my opinion. She gained so much more than just the sugar rush.
Many years later, this continues to be our yearly tradition, one that reminds me of the power of turning a challenge into a learning opportunity and turning the everyday moments into moments of connection and teaching. One year we got all the way up to the day of baking when her sister and I were hit with pneumonia. She carried on the tradition, baking with her dad and getting (yes, I say getting) the opportunity to practice flexibility and disappointment when we had to cancel the actual party (sending guests home with cookies AND pneumonia did not seem like a good idea at the time).
Seem like something that might be worth trying? Remember it’s NOT ABOUT THE COOKIE. While it doesn’t have to be a party, it DOES have to be something your kiddo is super excited about already. Let them come up with the project idea and then help them run with it. Space it out over time, but make a clear plan at the beginning that includes the steps and ultimate goal. Model focus, perseverance, lightness, and flexibility. Commit to a schedule for the special project time, then reflect and monitor along the way. Who knows? You might be creating a tradition, and, at the very least, some sweet connection.