Stop the Insanity!

By Megan

CHAOS, people! I live in BEDLAM these days!

Everywhere I look, and more painfully, every where I step, lie Peabody’s Matchbox cars. And Bean’s Barbies and Lincoln Logs and colorful rubber pads from Hullabaloo and much of the contents of my lower kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Al and I dutifully police up all the toy-and-other-kid-treasured gritty-gradoo off the floors of every room before bedtime every night, only to find that within .09 seconds after we wake up next morning it all explodes from hiding onto the floors again.

I know. You feel me, dontcha?

I bet, though, you’ve bothered to teach your kids to clean up after themselves. To TRY to teach ’em, anyway. We haven’t. And it’s mostly just an oversight. We’re thinking of other things, moving from one activity to another throughout the day, and getting the kids to put away their things as they finish playing with them never really occurs to us, even though both of us are fairly disciplined in that area ourselves.

But I’m not gonna lie to you, with Bean approaching 6 in a few short weeks and Peabody knocking on the door of two-and-a-half, I’m starting to think it’s about time our little mess-makers take on the responsibility of putting away their own things, and things of ours that they get out. How do I do that?

I don’t really know. I think my own mother attempted to drill neatness and order into my brain the whole time she was raising me, and it never did a bit of good in the long run, although after each “Sloppiness Reckoning Event” (you know the ones where there’s tons of yelling and you’re not allowed to come out of your room until it is NEAT AS A PIN, YOUNG LADY? Those?) I did manage to rehabilitate myself from total lack of order for a few weeks. But then I’d backslide… Order and organization just didn’t seem to come naturally or comfortably to me. It got in the way of the FLOW of my brain, which moved (and still moves) from one idea or activity to the next very rapidly, and didn’t really take kindly to slowing down for tidying. I have a feeling Bean’s like me in this regard. Peabody displays a much more orderly manner, in thought and in deed, so I think if I can start working on him early, I may be able to save him.

So, I have done like I do, and researched the heck out of How to Teach Your Kids Order. (That sounds so good, doesn’t it? Kids? Order? Yes please. I’ll take the biggest slice you’ve got, with extra frosting!) And from various sources I’ve gathered a quick list of the things we can do to help get our children in the habit of cleaning.

1. Start training them when they’re toddlers. Help them put all the blocks back into the bucket after they’ve finished stacking them up into towers. I tried this with Bean when she was a toddler and she just walked off and left me there to do it myself. I think my timing was good, but my method may have been a bit off. Boring. So with Peabody, I’m going to find ways to make cleaning up a big game. He loves music and noises, so yesterday I had him help me pick up Lincoln Logs and put them away in a bin, and made it fun for him by making a silly sound or humming fanfare every time he got a log where it belonged.

2. Make cleaning up part of the daily routine. See, this is easy! Why haven’t I been doing this? This week, after they get up from the dinner table (I’ll move their dinner about 15 minutes earlier to accommodate) I’m going to have THEM put away the toys that clutter the main living area, and put away any toys or books that are out of place in their rooms. (Hopefully I’ll be able to supervise from my spot by the kitchen sink as I dutifully clean up the kitchen.) It’s a start!

3. Have a place for everything. Which we do, but I’m not 100% sure both of my kids understand the system, which means I need to spend some time explaining it to them OR (and maybe this is where I should focus), I need to simplify the system. I read somewhere that actually having toys and books displayed visually on shelves as opposed to bins or toy boxes makes it easier for children to understand and embrace orderliness. I get that, but I’ll admit I prefer to have things tucked away out of sight (at least in the living areas) vs. out in the open when they aren’t being used. I’ll have to figure something out here – either make adjustments to my own way of doing things or see if I can get the kids to buy into my “hidden” system.

4. Point out order and its benefits to your children. “See how all of these cars are right here in this case? Every single car has its own little compartment. Doesn’t that look neat and tidy? And if you keep them here when you aren’t playing with them, when you want to find one of your favorites, you’ll know just where it is, every time, and you won’t have waste time looking around!” (I’m sold, how about you?)

5. Less is more. Child-rearing expert John Rosemond recommends only having a handful of toys (or sets of toys) available to kids at one time. More than that, he says, is confusing and distracting and prevents children from being able to focus and engage in imaginative play (which is the type of play most beneficial to a child’s developing mind). And I’ll buy that, so maybe I need to put some toys away (we get hand-me-downs from 3 or 4 sources, so we have WAY more than a handful) and rotate them into and out of circulation from time to time. Sure would be easier to keep things orderly if there weren’t so many things to begin with, right? I don’t know if I’d cut down to just a handful, but maybe we’d learn faster how to organize if we had a more manageable load to organize?

So those are a few of the top pieces of advice on teaching children to clean up after themselves that I found in my search. They seem like some very good first steps to implement – fairly easy and painless. I’m going to give them a try. What have you done with your kids to get them to embrace order in the playroom and all over the house? Do you have any advice for me?

4 Responses to Stop the Insanity!
  1. Smart Kids
    September 27, 2010 | 2:15 pm

    I can totally understand the frustration of having messy kids. I had a terrible time with my kids and their room until I ULTRA organized it–with labels on absolutely everything and a place for anything they could ever imagine. Suddenly, their room stayed WAY cleaner. So…those tips you shared certainly can make a difference.

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