Getting kids to clean up after themselves
How would you encourage a child his age (3 1/2) in the direction of picking up his toys? Or if it is not unschooling to encourage a child in a particular direction, then what would you do?
Rather than setting the goal of getting him to help you, set a goal of being someone he wants to spend time with. You can turn clean up into a game, like throwing things into bins for points, doing a race to see if the two of you can clean everything up in 5 minutes. Put music on. Use the time cleaning up as time to tell stories or have conversations.
Yes, I WANT him to start picking up his own messes, that's why I make him. I don't expect him to do it perfectly or by himself yet,
And my need for that created a child who turned cleaning up a small mess into a huge tearful production. It made me realize that all the hurt I was causing was all for something that lasted only hours. The accomplishment would be gone tomorrow. She'd probably remember my attitude and angry feelings for years, but what it was all about would be long gone.
So I saved the ranting for when company was coming. (Not because it was good to do then, but because of poor planning on my part. It was very definitely not a good solution!) Now at 12 she's seeing things that need done and doing them. Age and maturity will provide them with new needs and new abilities. It's highly unusual (though not unknown) for a 3 yo to clean up joyfully because they like order. (And sometimes it's part of being 3 and it disappears at 4.)
To get a 3 yo to clean up basically the only method is making them. And if we could feel what we were doing to them from inside of them when we make them, we'd never ever do that.
but I WANT him to get the idea that when we make a mess we clean it up.
Then model that for him. What you're unconsciously modeling for him now is that big people get to make little people do what the big people want. Live the values you'd like for him to have. Invite him along because you're being a pleasant person he wants to spend time with.
The values we force them to live for us are likely to backfire and as soon as they have the power to ignore us they'll take it.
I am not OK with the cleanup being 100% my job as his mother. I see my SIL waiting on her teenage boys hand and foot, clearly they have never lifted a finger to take care of themselves, and it makes me very uncomfortable.
But, see, that's not what I'm talking about. My daughter does help because she wants to spend time with me, because I ask her if she'd like to help, because she enjoys feeling competent, because she's older and sees the world differently than she did at 6, because I thank her even if she has only done a little bit because she chose to give me some of her time. I do the tasks I want to do -- and figure out ways to make things I don't want to do not so bad -- and it makes for a happier person she'd like to be with.
But is 3 and a half really too little to start? Picking up his toys just involves throwing them into the plastic bins we have set up. Not even into any particular bin.
Not too young to invite him to help. But too young to expect him to help. Ask him and expect him to say no. If you're not grumpy while you do it, which would give him another reason not to be with you, then sometimes he will help. (It may take a while if you've always made him clean up and you now give him the option of not cleaning up. He's going to want to take the opportunity to not clean up until he's confident that you won't make him and he can choose to do it or not.)
And sometimes making a mess and expecting mom to take care of it is an expression of disrespect to mom.
But that's not how children view the world. They don't expect mom to clean up after them. They just don't care. Or the task is more overwhelming than the results.
If we assume kids are living with the same values that we have, we're going to see their behavior much differently than if we look at the world through their values.
They're going to value having their toys spread out a lot more than having the room neat. Even if they appreciate being able to find something when the house is neat, that aspect may not be worth the effort needed to keep things neat.
If your husband valued a well scoured garage floor and expected you to scour it if you tracked dirt on it, if you left it to him, would that be a sign of disrespect? Or would you be respecting your own need to determine what was worth your time and energy?
I understand the kid logic, but is it really so wrong to want him to pick up some toys?
There's nothing wrong with wanting that! But as with any situation where one person wants something the other person doesn't, regardless of how reasonable the first person thinks their request is, there isn't an easy peaceful path to get the second person to comply or change their thinking. Mankind has been trying to solve that problem for a long time! And it's mostly resulted in war.
Maybe it would help to take a step beyond understanding the logic. You understand that he doesn't see your request as reasonable. But I think you're still viewing the problem as trying to get him to do something reasonable. The real problem is trying to get him to do something unreasonable.
How could someone ultimately get you to do something you feel is hard and a waste of your time?
Would yelling and punishment and other expressions of how powerful the other person is help?
But what if you liked the person and enjoyed being with them? And what if they asked if you wouldn't mind keeping them company. What if they asked you to do little meaningful things to help them out, like "Would you hold this in place with the wrench while I whack it with the hammer?" That type of request feels different than someone pointing at a task and asking someone to do it. It's not that they're not both helpful, but the first feels useful and helping someone do something they couldn't have done on their own, the second feels like being put to work.
Which scenario is more likely to lead to you saying "Is there something I can help you with?"
Rather than asking him to pick up 5 toys, maybe you could ask him to get the bin they go in. That's likely to have a different feel. You aren't delegating a task so much as asking him to do something to directly help you.
Positive statements like "That went faster with help. Thanks!" and "This is teamwork!" And you can also talk in general ways about all working together to build a family. As long as it isn't a commentary on his actions or lack of action. It's presented as a family philosophy.
Along the lines of turning it into a game, you can set a timer and have a race to see who can pick up the most toys in 5 minutes. (Didn't work for my daughter since she didn't like competition!)
Last updated: April 2009