What’s in a Name? A Super-Easy Way to Get Your Kids to Cooperate!

What do Panera Bread and my homeschool have in common? 

(I mean besides hungry people who are constantly demanding food, tables that need to be cleaned dozens of times a day and occupants who splash water on the bathroom mirrors.)

We both have used names to define things or activities to improve our establishments and our productivity. 

Panera has created their You Pick Two®  menu option where you mix-and-match two half-portions of their menu items to “create your own ideal meal.” By providing a catchy name for this option, Panera has:

  • Set clear expectations: YOU will clearly be PICKing TWO items. 
  • Minimized repetition: Most people will get the gist of it just by seeing the phrase. The cashiers won’t have to constantly answer the same basic questions (“How many items can I pick?”).
  • Defined the scope: By naming this option and providing a few clear details they’ve successfully set boundaries on their You Pick Two menu choice. You know the available selections and you can rest assured you’ll be enjoying your customized meal soon.
  • Made life easier: No, their menu phrase isn’t moving mountains. But, if I’m ordering lunch, I’d rather say “I’ll have the You Pick Two with BBQ Chicken Flatbread and a Greek Salad” than “Would it be possible for me to get a half-sized BBQ Chicken Flatbread… Do you sell half-portions? How much would that cost?… and then I’d like a Greek Salad but is there a smaller-sized salad I could do? Or maybe just make the salad a side dish with the Flatbread….”
  • Made life slightly more interesting: Again, nothing earth shattering is happening here. But there’s something about a name – an identity – that offers a sense of legitimacy and security to the people using it. The name represents a “real thing” and seems to validate that thing’s existence. 

I’ve found the same phenomena to be at work in our homeschool (and in parenting in general). 

Over the years, we’ve named a variety of things – chores, days, school subjects, meals – and every time I’ve been shocked by the results. Just like Panera’s You Pick Two, the names for our activities help us set expectations, avoid repetition, define the activity’s scope, and make our lives easier and a tiny bit more interesting. 

Here are a few examples:

  • “Magnificent Monday, Terrific Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesday, Thankful Thursday and Fabulous Friday” – We named the school days after I noticed negative attitudes were beginning to take their toll. My kids thought the names were fun and they did get us out of our funk. We used the names for a few months and they faded from use but I bring them up from time to time, when someone’s in a bad mood, and it usually makes them smile and helps turn the tide. 
  • “Grandpa Math” & “Grandma Homework” – One of the ways my parents get involved with our homeschooling is by creating fun “homework” for my kids. They’ll include review questions about things the kids have been learning, secret coded messages, mazes, close-up image guessing games, riddles and logic puzzles. Naming these assorted activities has helped to make them a more-defined, “real thing” that the kids love and look forward to. Below is an example of our toddler’s Grandma Homework from last week.

  • “5 + 5” – Names help define any shorter subject or learning activity and save you from repeatedly explaining the same thing. When I say “time for 5 + 5” my kids know that I mean “please come here and bring your Bibles because we’re going to do a family Bible lesson and then pray together and then we’ll split up and you’ll each do five minutes of your own personal Bible reading.”
  • “5 Minute Pickup” – Messes are inevitable but we help keep them at bay with “5 Minute Pickups.” I set a timer for 5 minutes and we tackle a messy room together. The time limit gives a sense of urgency, sets a boundary (there is an end in sight) and stirs up a little healthy competition which, all together, seem to make us more efficient. By giving it a name, I can minimize nagging. Everyone knows what’s expected without me repeating it every time a little cleanup is needed.
  • “Treat of the Week” – To stop from being peppered with questions about candy and treats and dessert after EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL….. we instituted “Treat of the Week” when our oldest was about five (our very first one – giant ice cream sandwich cookie – is pictured below). It started with aspirations to make a pie, muffins or other fun dessert each week and has since devolved into buying a bag of cookies or claiming the treat of the week was the birthday cake they had at their friend’s party. Interestingly, as long as we use the name from time to time and make a nice dessert every month or two, the kids still see it as “Treat of the Week” and 80% of treat pestering has been eliminated!

giant chocolate chip cookie with chocolate syrup drizzle

  • “Summer Activities” – I’m including this one as an example of what not to do. Although this name still defined a scope of work and minimized repetition, it backfired when my oldest son realized “Activities” just meant “School.” It wasn’t really the name’s fault. I made the last-minute decision to include school work over the summer months without preparing my kids or getting their input so, naturally, “Summer Activities” never stood a chance. 

You’ll notice most of these aren’t even that clever or interesting sounding but that’s ok! In fact, the easier the better. You’ll remember them and they’ll stand the test of time as your kids mature. After all, the call of “Cleany, Cleany, Jelly Beany Time” might motivate a five-year old but you’ll probably have better luck engaging your teen if you tell him to do a “5 Minute Pickup.” The best names are the ones that have staying power and are woven into your family routines and traditions over time.

Take a few minutes to analyze your daily routine and see if there are any activities, chores or school subjects where you wish your kids were more cooperative or you find yourself nagging a lot. Choose one to start with and name it!

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