The Grandmothers on Clean-up Time
My kids do not pick up the house. It gets to a certain point and yelling is involved, and then they pick up. As soon as it’s picked up they start messing it up again. I don’t have time to stand over them; I feel like throwing out all their stuff. Please help. Thank you, Single Dad.
Dear Single Dad,
Oh, dear. How to get the kids to clean up after themselves. Some things never change. Many of the Grandmothers’ children never did learn to pick up their toys, and left home for the last time with us yelling out the door at them, “Now get back in here and get your dirty socks off the dining room table!” And then as soon as they got their own homes, they turned overnight into slavishly stylish interior decorators and immaculate housekeepers.There are so many variables involved here. How old are your children? How many of them are there? How large is your home? How much squalor are you willing to tolerate? All we know for sure is that you don’t like to yell, and so far that’s all that has seemed to work.
So start over. At a time when you are NOT asking them to clean up, call a family meeting. Tell them how bad you feel when you yell, and ask them for their ideas as to how to get the house to a reasonable degree of tidiness without anyone yelling or, for that matter, resenting being yelled at. Maybe, if they are older, they will insist on their right to grow mold and attract vermin in their own rooms if they so choose. And you might need to acquiesce to that, grit your teeth and shut their doors. But you have every right to insist that the common areas of your home are for everyone’s enjoyment and need to be treated with respect. Then work out a plan: should each person have an area that s/he is responsible for (the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom), or should each person have a task s/he is in charge of (one collects dirty dishes, one puts all the dirty clothes and towels in the hamper, one puts the toys away), or should each person take care of his/her own toys/bookbag/dishes/towel/boots?Another thing for the family to discuss if you can hold their attention that long would be, what happens to the stuff? Do we have too much stuff? Do we need to sort through and organize and even get rid of some of the stuff? Maybe the toys need to be rotated, some stored while the rest are played with, and then switched around. Less stuff would mean less picking it up. And a new orderly system for where it all belongs wouldn’t hurt, either. Privately, Single Dad, if an excess of stuff seems to be your main problem, you might resolve not to buy so much of it in the future. And you might ask the gift-giving relatives to do likewise.
With younger kids, of course, another tactic is needed. For preschoolers, clean up time can be overwhelming; they don’t know how to break the task down to smaller steps, and they don’t know where or how to start. You might say something to them like, “That sure looks like a big mess. I’ll bet you had a good time playing. I’ll put away these things and you can put away those. That way the job won’t be so big,” and then give them a little help. If you have the energy, make a game of it – you’re Cinderellas cleaning up after the Ugly Stepsisters, maybe, or robots programmed to put everything in its proper place.So let’s say you’ve got a plan, and the family agrees to it. And then the very next day, you trip over a pair of rollerblades in the middle of the hall or find all the pieces of a Monopoly game spread out on the living room floor. Don’t yell. Just quietly dispose of it, as you told them you would at the family meeting, only apparently they didn’t believe you. Not permanently, just temporarily. Not vindictively, but matter of factly. Or even playfully. “What happened to your playdough? Did it disappear? Wherever could it be?” Return it only when you see evidence of a return to the agreed-upon family clean-up plan.
You might even try to have fun together with the whole clean-up process. No one yelling, no one forcing, just something to be done together. And at the same time, all of you looking forward together to the game of catch in the backyard or the DVD that you got from the library that is scheduled for when – but will not happen until – the clean-up job is finished.
If you have a parenting question, please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.The Grandmothers are Kathy Baker, Maria Kaiser, Gann Roberts and Ginny Steininger. They meet at Hanna Perkins Center, 19901 Malvern Road, which houses the Hanna Perkins School and the Reinberger Parent/Child Resource Center. For information call Barbara Streeter (216) 991-4472.