Thursday, June 14, 2012

CLEAN UP!!!!! NOW!!!!!

For the record, shouting (as I just did in the title of this post) is not an effective way to get your kids to clean up. You'd think I'd know that by now....

Let me backtrack a bit. I have been guilty of "helping" my kids clean up (often doing all of it for them) far, far, far too often. But you know what? I'm 37 1/2 weeks pregnant. In the last few weeks, I have become less and less willing to clean up my kids' toys for them.

So I informed them recently that this summer is the summer when they learn to clean up by themselves. Incidentally, they're good at doing this in their rooms. But in the living room (where a lot of their toys reside), I've trained them too well to depend on me to get it done. No longer!

This week I've really started focusing on ways to get them to clean up...ways that don't require me to repeat, "You're supposed to be cleaning up!" seventy bajillion times along the way. I should be able to tell them once, and they should be able to do it.

So I've tried time outs on the couch, and time outs in their rooms, and longer grounding in their rooms. And I've just had trouble getting any of that to work really effectively.

By today, I was just fed up and frustrated. Which leads me to my embarrassing reminder that screaming doesn't work. All it does is give me a sore throat and make me feel guilty.

After I'd screamed at them today, I tried something else.

"If you're playing with a toy instead of cleaning it up," I said, "I'm throwing it away."

Chickie immediately tested me. Into the trash can went a headband, and then a little toy laptop thing.

Then she grinned and played with one of Zoodle's dress-up hats, and I realized my policy needed to change.

"Well, I can't throw that away; it's Zoodle's," I said. "So I'll throw away a piece of your dress-up clothes." I found a princess dress (one that I got cheap at Goodwill), and into the trash it went. Chickie wasn't too happy, but she realized I meant business, and she began to clean up.

Then I saw that Zoodle was playing with Jenga blocks. Again, I needed to refine the rule. "Okay," I said, "I don't want to throw away a game that belongs to the whole family. So I'm going to find something of yours to throw away instead." I found the little Spiderman cake-topper that he had on his birthday cake this year. Not too expensive, but something I know he's a little attached to. Into the trash it went. A few minutes later, I threw away a rubber bouncy ball.

Oh yeah, and at some point, one of Chickie's coloring books went in the trash too.

You know what? I did have to throw away several things. But it worked. They got motivated, and they got the clean-up done. And I may have to throw away more things tomorrow, but I bet it won't take long at all until this little lesson has been learned (thoroughly!)

A couple of keys to this tactic: I was mad, but I stayed pretty calm and matter-of-fact as I was throwing things away. Also, the toys are staying in the trash. They won't magically reappear in the toy bin. They are gone.

I'm always happy to discover a parenting strategy that works. And if it can save my throat from post-yelling rawness? That's icing on the top of the cake.