“I don’t want to!” “It’s not fair!” “My friends don’t do it that way.” “Why should I?” “No-one else has to!” “That’s not what I want.” “What about me?” Brat comments often come out of children when it’s time to tidy their rooms.
Even before I wrote my post for worldmomsblog (World Moms Blog – Post Two ) and was pointed in the direction of the flylady (link here ) by Meg at writewizard, we used a great strategy for getting the kids to tidy-up big messes in their rooms. (OK, so we just didn’t use it often enough! LOL) Here’s my first challenging thought for the day: when it comes to kids tidying their room, the problem might not be what we think it is.
If we are the kind of person who values independence, and know that our success has come from hardwork and self-discipline, we tend to think that these are the prime keys to success for our children too. Often, but not always, we will be the kind of person who does anything to help our kids become independent, right from the word go – we’ll never have our kids in our rooms, let alone our beds, and we’ll use strategies like cry-it-out to teach them to settle themselves. Naturally, we’re also the people who want our children to be able to tidy their rooms – alone.
The bad news is, big messes are highly unlikely to be tidied up by the child alone, without fuss. Often it takes parents resorting to rewards or punishment for even the smallest amount of action. At the end of the day (yes, it does take that long for some kids), we might have a tidy room, but we also have stressed-out, fed-up, disconnected families.
So, first let’s address the issue behind the mess: people who are untidy tend to be overwhelmed by their lives. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see why or how. It could be they are too busy – they’re not getting enough down time. It could mean they are feeling emotionally disconnected from their important people. It could be that too much is expected of them – for children, this means developmentally we are asking too much for them at the age they are at. It could mean that they have scattered thought processes and their brains are constantly buzzing. It could also mean that they have never been taught (in an age appropriate and manageable way) how to be tidy. Tackling these may be the key for preventing a giant mess in the future.
Messiness is a key sign that things might not be great for our kids. (They might be perfectly fine, OK or good, but not great. For other signs of great parenting: Signs of Great Parenting: Pre-School to Age Six and Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers )
So, here’s an idea: remove the main focus from ‘teaching’ independence. People who are really, truly, deeply independent – aren’t that happy or sure of themselves – even if their social-shell portrays something different. (Breathing In and Out: One Idea for Avoiding Burn Out and Can Your Kids Accept Help? Can You?)
The actual idea for tidying – and please only use it with children aged four or older: your child sits in the room with you, they may not read, play or do anything else to entertain themselves. You start tidying-up – talk them through what you are doing, all the dirty clothes in the wash, all the board-games and cards here, all the lego (etc) in separate piles. Then spend the time separating out things into their proper places, throw out junk. Take a break when you’ve had enough – model how to stop and have a rest. [If they’re moaning] don’t make eye-contact, negotiate with them or engage in any way except explaining what you are doing. [If they’re quite happy to sit there, just chat as you would normally.]When take this approach at our house, it only takes ten minutes or less of whinging time for the nine-year-old Hare to say, “Do you want a hand?” At that point, I give him a specific job to do, for example, “Sort the lego, meccano and K’nex into separate boxes.” He can stop to watch me work again, but it’s so not interesting that he’s soon in action once more. The better emotionally attached Owl gets stuck right in beside me and is unlikely to stop at all! As long as they can’t entertain themselves can’t leave the room – they will (eventually) help out. The more often you use this strategy, the faster their co-operation.
Now we use the flylady’s strategies for keeping on top of the mess. They are smaller goals and more specific than what we’ve used in the past and they’re working – partly because I’m almost out of the baby-coma and can keep things on track (I’m not so overwhelmed by *my* life).
Our kids’ first goal: clear floor and bed before going to school and before bedtime. (As Steven Covey points out in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – kids might not *know* what tidy means, as logical as it seems to us.) Their second: clothes and shoes out ready for the next morning.
What this strategy really teaches children: I am there for you when you have a big job to tackle; I will help you develop strategies to manage big problems in your life; by working together we can get things done fast; and interdependence is a healthier approach than dependence (Mum does it all when the kids are at school) or independence (thou shalt do everything alone).
So, here’s what some of you are thinking:
1. Interesting idea, must give that a go.
2. Oh, good I have permission to help my kid out. And I must check out the flylady, too.
3. That’s too dogmatic and controlling, why would you make your kid sit through all that.
4. “I don’t want to!” “It’s not fair!” “My friends don’t do it that way.” “Why should I?” “No-one else has to!” “That’s not what I want.” “What about me?”
Looking forward to your feedback on this one!
[These bits I have added for clarification, after a great comment from MamaWerewolf. ]
(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )