I met Efi, an old friend working in the hi-tech industry, and an experienced father of Ben, 8, and Lucy, 4, a while ago n a one of the Agile practices conferences. He turned to me over lunch, and asked me to advise him about problems he was having with getting his son to tidy his room. He practiced Agile daily, and had an intuition that one of the ways he could resolve his difficulty was in the Scrum world he knew so well.
“Every day, it’s the same story”, he told me. “I come home, my wife’s upset, Ben’s room isn’t tidy, they’ve already fought, she’s yelling, he’s yelling… And at the end of the day, Ben is sent to his room, supper is ruined, little Lucy doesn’t understand what’s going on around her, and in general, it sucks. All we get to talk about is tidying up the room.”, Efi went on, “I’m bummed out because i don’t want things to continue this way, and as Lucy has also stopped tidying her room, we’re now fighting on two fronts. I really don’t understand, how hard is it to tidy a room? And on the other hand, why tidy the WHOLE room every day? We’ve tried tidying his room ourselves, and that didn’t teach him anything, and the situation just remained the same.”
“But,” Efi continued, “a few months after we started practicing Agile at work, the penny dropped. I mean, we put up tasks on a team board almost every day, and the tasks get done. We talk about them, and review them, so if there’s a problem we fix it on the spot. So why not have the same task board at home?”
It’s funny, but Efi really felt that the solution was right there in front of him, and all he wanted was to consult a bit to see how to do it right.
Before we start, what, in fact, are we talking about here?
Well, it’s not new that there’s a conflict between the fact that we want the children to tidy the room, but they really don’t want to, and why should they tidy the room at all?
As much as you may think so, you aren’t alone in this conflict. In nearly every family it exists in one way or another, and every family chooses their way to deal with the issue. Anger, punishments, benefits, and even tidying the room ourselves.
To avoid the power struggle, the smart thing to do would be to maintain the boundaries as parents on one hand, and not break the child on the other, not to force or punish – everything can be done with a positive mindset (hey, the psychological blah blah had to come at some point :)).
What drew me to Efi’s story is the fact that it is completely normal. When you encounter a normal situation, Scrum and Agile are excellent tools to solve them, especially if we are talking about a behavior or pattern that we wish to change.
So do we punish Ben when the room isn’t tidy, and how does Agile help?
Well, being cross about the untidy room is easy. Getting angry with your kids is even easier. But I don’t believe that either will help over time, unless they tidy their room because they are afraid of you – is that what you really want? Fear won’t exactly reduce the stress levels in the house and make it easier to live there.
A child needs boundaries. Not just because we want to, but also because it’s better for them. Boundaries and order are very good values to learn, and the child needs to learn to take responsibility for his own actions. Combining these elements together aren’t always trivial.
It’s best to interfere as little as possible. For instance, if the room is untidy and your son can’t find a notebook he needs for school, he should understand that it’s his problem and that it’s not very pleasant arriving at school without his notebook, and that he can’t go to friends until he finds his notebook. The result of his action has to be logical to make him change his ways and to understand that his needs (such as tidying the room) are, in fact, similar to ours.
This is exactly where Agile comes in. The Scrum tool enables you to understand the exact nature of the task and make sure that the task owner is responsible for it – not anyone else.
Certainly if we wish to raise healthy, confident children, who can decide for themselves and be responsible for their own tasks, we should cut back on the punishments, and look more at the results that the children’s actions bring about. For example, if your kid doesn’t want to eat during support time, so be it. Our part is not to give in and to make him understand that there are consequences to his actions. He’s hungry after supper? Next time he should eat when supper is ready.
We are looking to achieve the following benefits:
- How to get to the stage where the child tidies up his own room (answers our needs as parents).
- How to avoid a big mess in the future (or how to split up the tasks into smaller tasks).
- How to make the child feel in control of tidying up the room.
- What values should we pass on, and what does the child gain by performing his tasks (involvement, parental communication, attention).
- How not to earmark one child as the trouble-maker, and give the right amount of attention to the messy room.
Few days later Efi told me what he did…
“So when I got home, I showed the system to my wife, and she was amazed at how easy and nice it was. ‘This is what you do at work?’ she asked, and I felt comfortable with a system I am used to and I know what to do with, not to mention that I was the one who brought the system home, and my wife agreed to cooperate…”
Efi Introduced Scrum to his kids, over the weekend. He brought colors, sticky notes and a board, and sat down with his kids to build a task board. And they had fun! Drawing the three columns, putting up sticky notes, and so on.
Efi suggested that everybody puts a task on the board – even Mummy and Daddy. Not too many, one or two each. He also suggested that it would be really fun to meet every evening and talk about the tasks, and move them on the board according to their progress.
The kids were delighted, especially as they had the whole evening dedicated to them.
The next day, Efi asked to add a new task – ‘Tidy the room
Of course this task created antagonism. “Maybe you added it a bit too soon”, I said. “It’s best to work at first on tasks that are easy to complete, like ‘Read a book’ rather than tasks which will be harder like ‘do maths homework’. But since you started – leave the task on the board….”
I later suggested to Efi that he talk about the task and define it. Ben is already 8 years old, he can certainly express his opinion and reach an agreement about what should be done while tidying the room itself. I also suggested that they could have two kinds of ‘tidy’ – the daily kind, and the thorough, one a week kind. I recommended that Efi try to agree to Ben, as cooperation is always better than coercion, and it’s always a good idea to listen, and maybe give up on a few principles (does the room really have to be absolutely neat and tidy every day?).
The next day I met Efi again. “I told Ben”, he said, “come and tell me what it means to tidy your room. Then we split up that huge task in smaller ones that he can relate to. I swear, if you only take the time to listen to him”, Efi said with a grin, “the kid is a genius. We finally arrived at a solution similar to the one you’ve got in your book, and I added a bit myself. I offered to tidy the room with him for the first time together, so he understands what it means, and to get off to a fresh start. Then we decided that the room only needs to be tidied once a week – the rest of the time, just make sure that there aren’t any large things on the floor, like towels, heaps of clothing, and so on. We also said that we’d talk about it every evening, and if we think we need to change something, we will.”
“And what did you get out of it?” I asked Efi a few weeks later.
“I really liked it”, he said, “I was a bit worried at the beginning, but the kids really cooperated!
The arguments around the room stopped, my wife isn’t harassing Ben any more (thank God). She had to manage with things not being neat all the time, but Ben and her learned what tidy and not tidy limits are. The only time the issue is raised is at meal times, when we talk about the tasks, and it isn’t like arm wrestling any more.
Little Lucy is also putting up tasks on the board (we use pictures for her, like you suggested in the book), and all of a sudden I see that I have a daughter who wants to add tasks to the board and is delighted when she completes them on time. Ben isn’t getting the centre of attention any more as the trouble-maker – instead he gets a mother and a father who actually talk to him.
We’ve moved on to all sorts of tasks, but the main thing is that there’s peace and quiet, and I have a son who I can talk to him about other things, not just fight with him all the time. My children have learned to tidy the room by themselves, and they’ve also learned that it is important. Soon, we might not even need the board any more!”
I don’t have enough room to include all the techniques and methods that we talk about in the book Agile Kids, but what Efi did answered many of them and gave the proper family response with the tools that he knew. Note how Efi himself talks about his gains, even if he doesn’t get into specific detail.