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“Will my kids EVER clean up after themselves?”

Hi everyone,

With the announcement of my upcoming workshop this Saturday (see sidebar for details and registration), I’ve already had parents calling to ask me if we would be covering “How can I get my kids to quit leaving their stuff ALL OVER the house and CLEAN UP AFTER themselves!”  (Of course we will, and in more detail J)so it seemed like a great topic to address this week, especially right after the Holidays and with school back in full swing.  Our children may have many new items to be responsible for electronics, toys, backpacks, homework assignments, shoes….and the list goes on!

As I observed, studied, and worked through the conflicts with families concerning these specific issues, I discovered some fundamental steps that can be taken to minimize the conflicts, up the odds of things going well and building a good relationship at the same time.  The order of them is very important:


1.    Set the foundation before expectation!  Teach the concepts or principals when things are going good, not when a problem is occurring.
2.    Be very specific and detailed about what the steps are to have things go right.
a.    “When you are done playing in the playroom, the toys and electronics need to be put away.  Let’s start with one item at a time and make it fun.”  (Keep it age appropriate!)
3.     Begin with collaboration or sharing the control by giving LOTS of choices.  Once the child has successfully mastered the task, correction can be implemented as needed.

For example: “Today we are going to play ‘pick up’.  Let’s practice for 10 minutes and then have a treat!  Do you want to do the balls or trucks first?  Should they go in bins or lined up neatly?  Which makes it easier for you to put away?  Ok!  Now let’s mess it up and practice putting it away again!  Who can guess how fast we can get it done? In 3 min or 5 min?  Do you want to put some music on?  (With older kids who have already been taught, you may just skip this step, however….I started over with my teens just to make sure I hadn’t missed a step in my teaching them what needed to be done for the job to be correctly completed.  Guess what?  I had!”)

4.    As a parent, I must model what I want to see in my child.  I won’t be tempted to remind or nag and can teach them in the present time.  I may ask myself – “Am I putting my things away in a timely manner without whining,” OR do I say something like, “Hey guys… come and help me with this stuff… do you think I like cleaning up by myself?”
For example: If I want to model cleaning up and putting things away as we go, I may talk about it out loud: “’I’m just going to wash these pans up now so it won’t be a big problem later.”  OR “I’m putting my shoes away so I don’t forget where they are tomorrow when I need them.”  Is my room clean, if I’m asking them to keep their room clean?

1.    If you see your child’s things on around the house, try the following:
Remain calm…  (Be happy for this opportunity for them to learn), smile, (you might need to gently touch their shoulder to get their attention) and then give them the responsibility to take care of the problem.
Here’s an example:
Parent: “I see your shoes are in the kitchen, would you like to take your shoes upstairs now or in 2 minutes?”
Child: “2 minutes”
Parent: “Do you want to set the timer or do you want me to?
Child:  “____”
Parent: “Great!”

Notice:  There is no choice given about taking them upstairs, just when it will happen.

If the child doesn’t move when the timer goes off, Parent:  “Oh, there’s the timer…what does that mean????

Notice: I recommend you using questions instead of demands.  It keeps their brain in thinking and moving mode rather than resistance and arguing mode!)

Parent: “I see your shoes are still here…  Oh buddy… what did I ask you to do?”
Child: “But… mom….”
Parent: “What did I ask you to do?”  (Go into ‘broken record’ mode here)

If the child refuses, say: “So are you saying you won’t take them up like you said you would?  “Bummer” or “how sad (empathetic one-liner)…  I’ll take care of it.”  When the child is unaware, and without saying anything else, the parent takes the shoes and puts them in their collection/buy-back box.  (I collect stuff and they can buy it back).  Later, maybe when they are heading to school or soccer, they realize they need them, with a smile (because I am excited they get to now learn about accountability) I can empathetically and calmly say: “Oh….  I’m happy to let you have those back when you can pay me for the trouble I had to go to through to pick them up…..and you can do that by ________ (have a list of extra chores available to earn the item back, or paying $$ which is what my time for that job was).  Give it a little thought and let me know which works for you.”  WALK AWAY while they are thinking.
To improve the relationship, be as empathetic as possible; using sarcasm, anger or frustration only serves to provide a way for them to side-step accountability and focus their anger on the parent.

Have a great week!