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I must start off with an apology. I don’t think I have any magic formula that you will walk away with that will guarantee your child will be cleaning up his own messes in a week. Sorry about that. I think reminding your child to clean up after himself is kind of just part of the job description of being a mom (and, let’s be real, sometimes being a wife).
That doesn’t mean, however, that we moms are going to give up on trying and give up on the dream! And, to the credit of the children, then can and will get better about it if you put in the effort and work it takes on the front end. They just won’t be perfect about. I don’t want to fill you with false hope. Reminders will still happen, but they can happen less frequently. Here are some tips to help you out.
TEACH AND OUTLINE
Outline to your child what your expectations are. Do you expect your child to clear his own dishes after a meal? Tell him so. It might seem obvious to you that a polite person would do that after a meal, but he wasn’t born doing that and it won’t be obvious to him until he is told to do so.
It might be necessary to teach your child how to do the task you want him to. Demonstrate the task. For something like clearing the table, a one-time demonstration might be enough. For something like making his bed, he might need a few teaching sessions with you.
Children are nice people. Explain why you want your child to clean up after himself. Explain that it makes things easier on you and helps you out. Explain that it is polite to clean up after yourself when you make a mess. Point out how having things clean and organized feels good. Knowing WHY you want something done will help a child remember to keep it a priority.
Work with your child from as young as possible to clean up after himself. With a baby, have him help you clean up his toys after indpendent play. Now, obviously this is literally physically impossible until your child is able to put things back into containers, which is literally a developmental milestone. This typically happens somewhere around 9-12 months. Before your child is physically able to do this, do it in front of him. Talk about it, sing about it, and do it consistently. He will see that when playtime is over, you clean up and it will be a natural thing to him.
Follow this pattern for any task you want your child to clean up after himself for–start demonstrating young. Hand it over as soon as he is able. But still help until your child is able to do it on his own. While a 13 month old can physically put the balls back in the basket, expecting him to put 20 balls away alone is way too overwhelming.
If you have a 6 year old and you have decided you are tired of cleaning up everything after him, it is definitely not too late! My Mom says my Dad was never expected to make his own bed growing up (youngest child), but he can do so today :). He learned as an adult and so I am confident your child can learn no matter his age.
Children live up to expectations. Once you have outlined, taught, explained, and demonstrated what you want done, expect your child to do it. Expect it. Have faith in it.
When you walk into the kitchen and see a dish on the table, don’t sigh with exasperation and clean the dish up. Call your child into the room and have him clean it up. This is part of your expectations. This is showing your child that you expect consistency. Is it more work than moving the dish yourself? Definitely! This is part of the work on the front end. It is also more work for your child than it is to do it initially. He will be smart enough to realize that.
Be sure to recognize your child when he remembers to clean up after himself. Thank him for his efforts and for remembering.
If you have a child who just isn’t putting forth effort into remembering to clean up after himself, go ahead and establish a system for reinforcement. I am not talking about the child who is trying but forgets sometimes. I think any time you are establishing a new habit, there will be misteps. I give grace in those moments. Just stick to enforcing consistency.
I am talking about the child who seems to not be trying at all. You might do a reward system where your child gets something positive every time he remembers. Rewards tend to work better than punishments for children. You could do a jar and you put a penny in it every time they do something good, then when the jar is full you go out for ice cream. Sticker charts also work well–especially for preschoolers and younger.
If you have tried rewards with no success, try out consequences. You could remove a privilege. You could require an extra chore be done if he doesn’t clean up after himself. You could do it for him and have him pay you from his money for doing his work for him.
It can take some work, but I promise if you are clear in your expectations and consistent with how you handle things, your child will grow to be more proficient at cleaning up after himself.