Yesterday, I discovered a parenting hack that worked so well I thought I would share it. You may have already done this yourself, but I had never thought of it, so I’m sure there is someone else out there who could find this to be useful.
We have a big, finished room in our basement where our two younger kids keep many of their toys. This room is often anxiety-inducing, as my littles have the typical childhood habit of leaving all their toys on the floor. Fortunately, the mess is hidden in the basement most of the time. The difficulty comes when I decide it is finally time for them to clean it up.
If I send them downstairs with the command to put away their toys, one or more of the following ALWAYS happens:
- After some time passes, they come upstairs and tell me everything is put away. What has actually happened is they have put away a handful of things and the rest of the toys have miraculously become invisible to only the two of them. After giving them a few more chances, one of us eventually comes downstairs and has to tell them specifically what items do not belong on the floor.
- They go downstairs to clean, forget immediately they are supposed to be cleaning, and begin to play with their toys instead. The room is now messier than before.
- After 3 minutes, one of them comes upstairs to claim that the other one “isn’t cleaning ANYTHING!” after which, the other one yells, “I am TOO cleaning!” Truthfully, neither one of them is cleaning.
- Shouts of “That’s not mine!” and “I didn’t get that out!” echo from the basement. No one picks up anything because nothing belongs to anyone.
Yesterday was a snow day with lots of sleet, so we were stuck inside. Again, I told them to go pick up their toys, and more than one of the above scenarios began to play out. I was preoccupied with an organizing task of my own and I didn’t want to stop to go supervise their cleaning.
Suddenly, inspiration hit and I had an idea. I gave these instructions:
“James, you pick ONE thing that Harper has to put away. Then, Harper, you get to pick one thing James has to put away. It can be ANY toy that isn’t where it belongs and you can’t argue. Just put it away.”
And it worked. In less time than normal, all the toys were off the floor and no one was fighting.
This was successful for a few reasons:
- They got to boss each other around and take turn being in charge, which they LOVE.
- It narrowed the task down to just one item at-a-time.
- They took turns, so there was no argument about who was doing more.
- It took away the idea of “yours” and “mine” so they didn’t waste time arguing about whose fault it was that the item was on the floor in the first place.
Before, I would have stood in the room and done the exact same thing: “Harper, put away that princess doll. James, put away this nerf gun.” This simple adaptation kept their cleaning task the same, but allowed me to step out of the equation. It also broke down the steps of having to 1) identify the misplaced object and 2) put it wear it belongs. Instead, they only had to do half of the process at once, so they never got overwhelmed.
It may not work for everyone, but I will definitely be using this method in the future. I may even look for ways to use it to accomplish other difficult parenting tasks.
Do you have a useful tip for cleaning with your kids? If so, share it in the comments!