On ABC’s Supernanny episode with the Phelps family (Season 6: Episode 3) plenty made me cringe. However, one scene stuck in my head for days. Consequently I have a few thoughts on what Supernanny forgot to tell the Phelps.
In that scene, the mom repeatedly asked her child to clean up his toys. In a video shot of the floor, it looked as if every toy he owned covered it. Most moms can identify with that: Lego® blocks, mixed with action figures, mixed with who-knows-what. Aaack!
When the boy didn’t comply, Mom became enraged. Yelling and spanking didn’t work. Supernanny Jo’s suggestions, including the infamous Time Out (until the boy agreed to pick up his toys), plus anger management for Mom, helped some. Indeed, Mom had to handle her anger differently. And I’m all for time-outs, although effectiveness varies according to personalities (I’ll address that in my next post!).
Yet critically missing from Supernanny’s advice were tips on how to prevent the problem in the first place.
How do you motivate a child to clean his room himself? Following are seven tips for that, but first consider this;
What motivates YOU?
I’m the queen of Messies. (Do you know there is a Messies Anonymous?) Sometimes my home office papers look like they exploded. This horrifies my tidy husband. It looks worse when I sort papers to file or I’m in the middle of a project. But even when there’s method in my madness, to an outsider I admit it looks disastrous. And I too can feel overwhelmed. I can only cope with paper piles in small doses, in between which I simply need to shut the door and walk away.
Did the child in Supernanny feel overwhelmed by his piles? Did he wonder where he should start in actually getting his room clean? And to him, what was the point of doing so . . . other than relieving Mom’s anger?
I’ve thought about how I’d feel like if my husband stood over me, yelling: “Put away all these papers RIGHT NOW, and don’t come out of your room until it’s done, young lady!”
I’d probably dig in my heels, especially if in the middle of a project I wanted to finish first (when I felt like it)! My husband would never do this, of course, nor threaten to spank me or make me sit on a step until I complied.
Considering what DOES motivate me, however, helped me motivate my own kids. Here’s how to help yours:
1) Limit accessibility to toys with small parts by storing them up high. Rotate toys for more fun. When my son was small, we kept Lego ™ blocks in a bin on the upper shelf of my son’s closet, as we did other toys with small parts. One bin had to be put away before the other taken down. Sometimes we’d have Lego™ day, or Puzzle day which made those toys seem more special.
This kept my son from becoming overwhelmed by the mixing of many toys with small parts. (As for me, I’ve found that storing piles of unfiled papers by category in pretty paper boxes helps reduce my clutter. I can tackle one pretty box at a time!)
2) Model and engage your child in creative ways to play with toys. Sometimes kids dump a bucket of toys on the floor, play with them a few minutes, and then become bored. They aren’t sure what to try next, so they shrug and get out more toys. Then it frustrates them when it takes more time to put toys away than it did to play with them. They balk at that.
Get on the floor with your child. Be his cheerleader and teacher for a few minutes. When my son was two, at first he would dump his blocks, then quickly move on to something else. So I showed him how to create a strong base to hold up a tall Lego™ block tower. I remember how he proudly and excitedly said, “Yay! I’m makin’ a base!” He then played alone while I slipped away to do chores. He was so thrilled he wanted to take his tall tower to bed with him. The point is, he stuck with one play activity for much longer and wasn’t tempted to get out other toys.
Bonus: You get parent-child playtime in; he learns independent play!
3) Ask your child about what HE sees as a long-term project that he’d want to keep out for a few days. Think ahead together about how to make it accessible, yet tidier. Some kids feel compelled to finish what they start. They hate to put a half-finished puzzle away.
Plan ahead! A puzzle in progress can be done on a flat corkboard, which can be moved to a table or desktop with a tablecloth spread over it. Have your child put his architectural wonder in progress on a TV tray on his dresser, when not building. Blocks of various sizes can be stored in Ziploc bags.
4) Associate cleanup time with play, right from the start. When you pull down toys stored on a shelf, let the child know about how much time it will take to put the parts away and how much time he actually has. “We leave in 10 minutes for Grandma’s, and it will take about the same amount of time to put away those blocks. Want to choose something easier right now?”
Also familiarize your child with the words “personal chores” and “family chores”. Everyone has personal chores: dressing, bathing, cleaning your own rooms, putting your own laundry away. Family chores help the whole family: setting the table, clearing the dishwasher, etc. Every day, every family member has both personal and family chores, and it helps us make time for fun activities!
5) Offer “carrots” (rewards). “Hey! As soon as we both get our personal chores done, we can go to the park or go get an ice cream!” If the child doesn’t get his room done, show sympathy. “I’m sorry you couldn’t get it done in time for us to go to the park. Maybe we can do that tomorrow.” I tend to wait to ask for room cleanings when I already have a carrot in place that I can truly afford to offer and know a child wants.
6) Make cleanup more fun. My daughter listens to music while she cleans. I like to watch Netflix movies on my computer in the kitchen while making dinner. It makes the time go by faster.
Small kids can, with your help:
• Listen to music or sing songs. (“Cleanup, cleanup, everybody everywhere! Cleanup cleanup, everybody do your share…” )
• Clean by color. (“Quick, find everything red! Go! Now blue!”)
• Race against a timer. (“How many toys can you put away in one minute? Count them! Go!”)
• Play “basketball” by tossing blocks in a bucket.
7) Praise end results, and show child the benefits. “Wow, what a great job you did!” Take a photograph of his clean room. Tell him you are proud of his hard work. Show it off to the rest of the family.
When do you stop trying to control how clean your child’s room is? Teens should be able to care for their own territory. Two of mine grew up to be tidy, and one (for now) seems to be cursed with my Messy gene. But we all appreciate extra motivation to make our living spaces more habitable. We come up with our own carrots, and we all enjoy pats on the back for success.
Now to go tackle those paper piles. Ugh. I think I’d rather have a Time Out. Unless my “carrot” is cheesecake.