Banging your head against the wall and murmuring bad words under your breath is counterproductive. Kids are messy. They just are. They have better things to do than pick up their messes. It’s all right there in their owner’s manual -- in between learn to walk and never play with matches -- make messes.
Stopping to consider their motivation helps. They are not making messes maliciously. It’s not premeditated mischief. It’s just that they are learning so much so fast and have a whole world to explore. There are pretty things, new things, interesting things that come along and distract them. They jump from one activity to another with no thought of the disaster they left behind.
But that consideration doesn’t fix the problem. It just helps you understand it.
Here are some helpful tips to get your kids to pick up after themselves:
Take the time to explain to your children that they have a responsibility to care for their things. Tell them that the more time you have to spend picking up, the less time you will have for them. Let them know how it causes you aggravation and what that irritation means to them -- you having a short fuse, yelling, crying and stress.
Also point out how they feel when they can’t find things because they aren’t where they belong. Have them remember a time when they couldn’t find a shoe or homework and how awful it felt. If they are too young or immature to get this, move on to the next tip, which is . . .
Every child has something that motivates them. Your job, as parent, is to find it and use it to your advantage. There are any number of things that light a fire under children.
Allowance, a movie, a special lunch with you, an inexpensive trinket or toy from the dollar store, riding in the front seat, anything that shows them you appreciate their cooperation.
I have had a number of children that are highly competitive. All I had to do was say, “I’m giving you each five minutes to clean your rooms up. The clock starts . . . NOW!” They were off and running. I didn’t even have to offer them an incentive. Just the sheer joy of competing to win was all it took. When they were younger, we broke it down. I’d gather the little ones in the living room and they would compete with different tasks. “Emily, you have all the books. Put them on the shelf. Roselie, you have all the toys. Put them in the toy box. Aaron, you have all dirty clothes. Put them all in the hamper. Ready, set, GO!” We would then do shoes in closet, trash off the floor, papers put away, and so forth until the room was tidy. The winner got to be named “the winner.” For single children, you can also time them and have them try to beat previous times. Keep a notebook or whiteboard.
Use weekly charts on their door and mark off or initial when they complete tasks. When they are older, set goals for them and keep a chart for some larger incentive. They can use the car on Friday night. They can have one more hour on their curfew. Whatever works for them. Sometimes, even the older ones need it broken down into tasks. Praise heavily when goals are met. Use gold stars for little ones.
When all else fails . . . use the old trash bag method. This proved very effective and the kids learned from enduring it only one time. If their rooms are a disaster and they can’t seem to get it shaped up with any other way, go in and bag everything on the floor up. In order to earn it back, they have to do a chore around the house. Do smaller grocery bags and smaller chores for little ones. Feed the pets for a bag. Take out the trash for a bag. Set the table for a bag. When they are older, use larger trash bags and set the bar higher. Clean the kitchen or the bathroom for a bag. Mow the lawn or shovel the walk for a bag. It doesn’t take long for them to earn their things back, particularly if there’s a favorite toy, book, or outfit involved. This rule can apply to anything left in a common area -- living room, kitchen, bathroom. It automatically gets bagged and earned back.
It helps to start them early, when they are just toddlers. Even toddlers can pick up toys, and put them away. Make them feel proud when they do by cheering and clapping.
As a parent, one task you need to work on is making sure there is a place for everything so they know exactly where things go. Try labels when they are old enough to read. Pictures work for little ones. If there is a place for all their things, there is no excuse to be messy.
(Becky Lyn is an author and a 35+ year (most of the time) single mom. Visit Becky Lyn’s Website. or write her at email@example.com.)