Mum clearing up after childrenHow many times do we end up nagging or ‘reminding’ our children to clear up after themselves? And then when the house is finally quiet, we potter round tidying everything up, only to find ourselves doing the same thing the following day.

Do you find yourself saying ‘What am I… your slave?’ or ‘What did your last slave die of?’ It is all in good humour, but it helps to look at what we are doing for our children and whether there is a way to help them become more responsible.

I would like you just to think for a moment. If you had a servant, would you expect your servant to suddenly start giving you instructions and telling you what to do? If they did you would soon become annoyed and wonder what had got into them. You may challenge them or just ignore them until everything settles back down. Well that is what our children think when we start telling them what to do. When there is a clear expectation that we will clear up, and clean, and cook, and give them lifts to wherever they want to go. Then all of a sudden we start giving them orders. They are bemused and slightly concerned that we do not seem to understand the pecking order. They may do a bit of clearing up to ‘keep the peace’ and then things settle down again –and we carry on doing what we have always done.

Please don’t think for a moment that I am being critical of your child. Indeed the sad thing is that we unconsciously set ourselves up for being a servant. We do everything for our children. We put them first. Our days are devoted to making their lives easier and happier. And if our child has special needs or we are separated we feel even more that we should do things for them ‘after all the difficulties they have been through’.

I would like you to consider the statement:
‘Never do anything for your child that they can do for themselves’
Can your child dust or put a vacuum cleaner round a room?
Can they clean a car or help clear leaves off the lawn?
Can they help lay a table, wash up or pack a dishwasher?
Can they help to cook a simple meal?
Could your child make their bed or make their lunch?
In our family, my children were magically able to make their own lunches on the day they started school. At the age of four! They have been making their own lunches ever since.

The children have always been good at coming down to set the table for breakfast or tea, and we all clear up afterwards until the kitchen is clear.

And when we got a new puppy, my children agreed that they would all help exercise the dog. We set things up so that every morning they take turns exercising the dog before they go to school. And they still do this even though we have had the dog for eleven years!

However I am going to say that my children are not good at clearing up after themselves. Are they lazy? Incompetent? Or inconsiderate?
No. They are pretty good kids. But I have let them get into bad habits.

If I want things to change in my household I am going to need to do a few things first.

  1. I need to tell them how all the mess is making me feel, and how frustrating I find it walking into a messy room.
  2. I need to tell them that from Monday there is going to be a new rule. That I expect them to keep the hallway clear and leave the downstairs clear of any of their things when they go up to bed.
  3. I need to ‘set them up’ to remember the new rule, by frequently asking them: ‘On Monday, what is the new rule going to be about tidying up? What will that mean you need to do? Where will you put your things when you come in the door? What will you do before you go up the stairs to bed?’ I will need to have this conversation frequently, and be sure to go through the questions in detail on Sunday evening, and when I see them first on Monday morning.
  4. I will try to notice every time they do clear up after themselves and mention it ‘I notice that you hung your coat up when you came in. That shows you are trying to keep our house tidy’ ‘I notice that yesterday there was none of your things left downstairs when you went to bed. Thank you for being so considerate’. And I will need to keep this up, as I tend to notice when they don’t do things and not when they do.
  5. I need to think of something that they would like as a reward. I think they would probably like a movie night with popcorn, which we could use if they manage to keep the house tidy for a week.
  6. And I need to think of some natural consequences if they don’t clear away their things… such as not having a movie night, or having to cook a simple meal one night due to the time I spent tidying up.
  7. Lastly I need to be consistent (my biggest failing!). I need to keep it up, week after week until my children are trained to put things away as they come in, clear up after themselves and to check the downstairs rooms for anything that belongs to them before they make their way up to bed.

In your household there may be a different issue that is pushing your buttons. But following a few simple steps can help new rules become established, and for your children to do more for themselves. After all part of our role as parents is to help our children become pleasant people to live with, and more responsible adults who can take care of themselves. We will be doing the world a favour by training them in good habits.

Good luck with tackling your ‘hot spots’

Elizabeth