“I have to take away their toys!”
“I yell until they do it.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore. I have tried everything!”
I have heard these, and many other, statements from clients and friends. When I mention that I rarely have to say a word to my kids about messes, I am usually met with either rude comments about me being pious or comments that basically call me a liar. People rarely believe that there is a peaceful solution to the cleaning up issue. So here it is. I am going to tell you my secret for instilling a positive “clean up and take pride in your space” attitude.
When my first child was a toddler, she loved to help clean up. She loved it not because it was fun per se, but rather because I did it and she wanted to copy me. Instead of brushing her off or telling her to do something else while I did all the work, I let her help in her own way. Her way was not always my way and it certainly wasn’t “perfect” in the eyes of most people, but she was happy to be like me and to be helpful. I thanked her for the thoughtfulness and effort she put forth. After all, some adults wouldn’t offer to clean, so this was a fabulous choice on her part. Now that my oldest is almost a teenager, she often asks if I would like help. If she sees a mess, she cleans it. Her younger siblings often follow suit, though they are less likely to notice a mess. She and I often walk the other two children through noticing messes and cleaning them up. After all, our family is a team. Plus, no one can read my mind. If a mess is unsafe or bothering me, I may need to let others know. Their thresholds for annoyance may be different.
Our house is not always pristine. We often have stacks of books, because we love to read, or a mess the dog made because she ripped the stuffing out of a toy. The expectation is not being flawless. The expectation is to be responsible, help out, and make sure the house is safe. We certainly do not leave Lego Bricks on the floor or spill water and leave it to cause someone to slip and fall.
No, we are not perfect. Yes, my children do clean without being asked most of the time. If they ask me for help, I help. If I ask them for help, they help. We are a team.
Model cleaning up.
Perfection is not the goal.
Thank those who help.
Ask because no one can read your mind.
Discuss when and why things are too messy for your liking.
Listen when others express annoyance over a mess.
Stress safety issues as needed.
Make it a fun game or race if drudgery sets in.
Be a team.
Adults should help clean up, too.