Cutting through the clutter of childhood

February 02, 2001

Cutting through the clutter of childhood

Teaching your Child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

"Do clothes belong on the floor?"

If I had a dollar for every time I've said that to my son, paying his college tuition would be a breeze.

Sometimes I sound like a broken record. Facing a potential confrontation with a 5-year-old, I want to pick up the items in my path.

"That's what the kid wants," says Dr. Sal Severe, author of "How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!"

When parents do tasks assigned to their children, they're sending the wrong message, Severe says. The child thinks, "If I really don't do it, someone will do it for me," Severe says.


By teaching self-sufficiency, parents avoid giving a child a sense of entitlement - that other people will clean up after him, says Kate Kelly, co-author of "Organize Your Home!: Simple Routines for Managing Your Household."

Expectations should be in proportion to the time you've spent teaching the skill, says Jody Johnston Pawel, author of "The Parent's Toolshop."

Children need to understand the value of cleaning and master skills needed for it before parents can expect them to clean their rooms independently, Pawel says.

She recommends two methods:

Start at one corner of the room and work your way around.

Sort everything into piles: Books go here, papers go there, etc. Then put items away by pile.

Parents tend to see something and tell a child what to do about it, Pawel says. Instead, turn that request into a question: "I see a sweatshirt on the floor. Where does that belong?" You'll teach your child to think for himself, Pawel says.

A home with young children should be a little cluttered, Severe says. This shows the children are exploring and learning.

"They need a tremendous amount of variety at this point in their lives," Severe says.

Here are other recommendations from Pawel, Severe and Kelly:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Tell your child there are two reasons why he needs to be tidy:

Safety. If you leave things in the middle of the floor, you or someone else could trip over them.

Convenience. If you put things away, you'll know where to find them.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't say, "Clean up your room."

That may seem like an overwhelming task for the child. Where should he start? What should he do? How should he do it?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Help your child make a list of what needs to be done. This helps him learn how to analyze a problem and form a solution.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Offer choices within limits.

Ask your child which he'd like to do first - his books or his clothes. Offering your child a choice helps avoid a power struggle, is less overwhelming and provides direction.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't harp. Remind: "Clean your room before you watch 'Barney.' "

Reminders shouldn't start with, "How many times have I told you ...." That phrase invites conflict. Your tone of voice can also make a difference. Don't be sarcastic.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make cleanup time as fun as possible.

Put in a CD and see how much you can get done in the length of one song.

Tell your child to pretend he is a Rescue Hero or another figure he admires. Tell him to clean up like that person would.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Tell your child that when he's finished playing with one toy, he needs to put it away before he gets out another one. This teaches him to complete tasks, a skill he'll need for homework assignments.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Set aside a corner of your child's room for ongoing projects, things that don't have to be picked up at the end of the day. Put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on it and vacuum around it.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> By having bins or other storage containers for toys, your child can learn the basics of categorization - Legos go in the Legos bin, blocks go in the blocks bin, etc.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> After the room is tidy, take a photograph of it. Your child can refer to the photo as a standard to aim for.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> By the time your child is 8 to 10 years old, he should be performing these tasks independently.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> There often are several ways to accomplish the same task. Don't demand that your child do things your way.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Be a good model. Put your car keys in the same place each night.

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