Thursday, January 12, 2012

"You're the cleaner."

Having a nanny can pose potential problems with the proper raising of children.  Nothing too serious or irreparable, but still it should be nipped in the bud.  My example from today for this statement is the following situation:  A child (age 7) was being sloppy while sharpening a pencil and spilled the shavings all over the floor.  He was informed to pick up the mess, but he promptly replied to me: "You're the cleaner."  (I do a majority of the house cleaning.)  Such smart aleck behavior was not tolerated, and he was required to clean up his own mess.  But his comment started a train of thought upon which I questioned the benefit of hiring someone who will clean up after all of your small children.  At what age should children be required to clean up after themselves?  Is the comfort of a clean home worth the loss in lessons learned by your children?  

Some people claim that you cannot start too young with teaching children to pick up their toys.  Others support a freedom from responsibility, i.e. the kids can simply play and then leave the toys out.  I tend to lean more towards the former position.  As soon as your children can walk (or even crawl), you can begin showing them how to put their toys away.  As they get older, instructing them in how to hang up their own coat, put away their own shoes, and clean up when they're done playing is useful to both of you.  While you must succumb to a bit of disorganization when raising children, you needn't allow your home become a pigsty because you can't physically clean everything up or do not have sufficient means for hiring a cleaner.  You may wonder how it is possible to keep your house clean.  I know it's like trying to keep the kitchen free of dirty dishes, but it is possible.

Step One:  De-clutter.  A large majority of chaos and toy upheaval occurs because there is simply too much stuff.  Throw away broken toys.  Give away or donate gently used toys.  Thin out your baby doll collection by getting rid of every fourth one.  Have your children decide which toys are most important to them.  Give them a specified amount (either for keeping or discarding), and stick to it as closely as possible.  Once you've thinned out your toy closet, you will find organizing and keeping it organized much easier.

Step Two:  Organize.  "A place for every thing, and every thing in its place."  This phrase is indispensable in a large household (or any household for that matter.)  Create a toy closet with shelves and buckets or boxes for separation of various toys.  Use empty cardboard boxes to create dividers for large shelves.  Label all the boxes or buckets so that your children know what goes where.  Try to keep the toys in one or two central locations.  This will diminish the clutter throughout your home and create an easier method for choosing something to play when your children whine about having nothing to do.

Step Three:  Ground Rules.  As your kids get older, you can set a few rules for playing with their toys.  A favorite one of mine (from my mother) is this:  Whatever you are currently playing with must be put away properly before another toy is taken out.  Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule such as leaving out the Playmobil set or the doll house.  In general, however, it is a good idea to limit the number of toys allowed out at a time.  By doing so, you more firmly establish the "clean up after yourself when you are finished" mantra.  Other rules may include asking permission before getting out certain toys or the loss of toy privileges as punishment.

Step Four:  Be firm.  From the beginning (especially if you are starting this method later on in your children's lives), you must be firm in your decided rules and organization.  The battle may be rough the first few weeks, but it will pay off in the end.  A favorite method of mine for teaching children the value of cleaning up after themselves is this:  If you don't pick it up, I will.  If I have to pick it up, you won't get it back (for however long.)  The toy in question is then removed from the toy closet and put away for an undisclosed period of time.  Your children may or may not respond with improvement to this method.  My mother told me of a story when I wouldn't pick up my toys, so she got out the paper bags and began storing them away.  I actually helped her pack them all away.  Of course, if that happened to you, you'd have less toys on your hands regardless. 

Step Five:  Be patient.  Discovering the best organizational methods for your family may take a large amount of time.  Be open to suggestion and variation from your kids.  Ask the older kids whether they have ideas for the toy situation.  Work together as a family to find the best fit for you all, one that keeps the house clean (and, therefore, your nerves a bit more intact) and also one that allows your children to be kids while teaching them skills for life.

Above all, remember that being able to clean up after themselves is extremely important.  Unless you are fabulously wealthy, chances are they'll have to clean their own home one day.  At that time, the guys will be grateful for clean habits when they try to impress their girlfriend.  The girls will be grateful for a pleasant atmosphere when returning home from a stressful day at work.  All your children will benefit from the "hardship" of responsibility for their toys and personal belongings.

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