April 3, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
Learn to look around the room every time your child asks for anything. It goes something like this:
Kid: Mom, will you play Go Fish with me?
You: Sure honey, as soon as you pick up the lego.
1) Make sure your request is small in comparison to theirs. If they ask for a glass of juice, pick a request they can carry out while they wait as you pour it. If they ask for a game of Monopoly, you can pick something a bit bigger. (For a game of Monopoly, I feel you would be justified in asking them to build an addition on the back of your house. Have you ever actually played and entire game of monopoly? Of course you haven't. You wouldn't be reading this if you had, because you'd still be playing).
2) Limit the scope of your requests to stuff they left out. Don't set a tone of "I won't help you unless you help me". Don't use this as a way to get them to empty the dishwasher. It's not a trade of work for work. You're simply using their request as a cue to remind them of what they should already have done–put away a toy after using it.
3) Remember, turnabout is fair play. If they do catch on (mine haven't yet), you will be glad to have limited your requests to the scope of tidying up. Worst case scenario, if your child responds to "Honey will you play blocks with your brother for a couple of minutes?" with "Sure, mom, but first can you put away the half folded laundry on the playroom floor?" this will feel reasonable and fair to you. And it's a plus when you're actions seems reasonable when imitated by your kids. Because they will imitate you. They are reliable like monkeys that way.
But, isn't it much better to teach your kids to put things away as they use them?
Yup. Definitely. Much much better. That's the way to cultivate a lifelong habit of tidiness, that is. That's the first choice, if you can do it.
But a close second to putting things away immediately is the habit of regularly looking around the house and tidying up any mess. As lifelong habits go, that's good enough to keep you out of squalor.
The four benefits of this system:
1) If you develop this one habit, you will have a tidy house. Assuming your kids are sufficiently demanding (which I bet they are–kids can be Truly Gifted in this area).
2) This is a self-reinforcing habit. You will not feel inspired to set down what you are doing, figure out what your child is leaving out, and get them to put it away. But when said child interrupts you with a request for something, asking them to quickly put a toy away gives you a minute to finish what you are doing. You will like that. So you will actually be motivated to develop this habit. You will not need to use willpower.
3) You won't have to initiate anything–you don't have to notice when something gets left out. Developing a response-habit is easier, I find, than a initiating-habit. But, interestingly, over time both you and your kids will get used to the look of a tidy house, and you will notice and respond to mess more readily. I often will ask them to put something away as they finish with it, now. Even my kids seem to have reoriented towards tidy as a "natural" state of affairs. (By "reoriented" I mean that they pick up reasonably cheerfully when asked. I don't mean that they tidy spontaneously. This is not a fairy tale).
4) You will have to play less Go Fish. This is a big bonus.
So, look around the room every time your child asks for anything that doesn't involve a fire extinguisher or an ambulance…