Many parents complain about how their children leave stuff all over the house. Parents either feel like unpaid servants or like broken records constantly nagging their kids to clean up after themselves. Some parents say that it takes less energy to clean up after their children then to get their children to clean up after themselves. Other parents complain that their children don’t move to clean up until they start yelling – and they hate the fact that they yell.
Is it possible for parents to motivate kids to clean up after themselves without screaming, threatening, or reminding? Some parents have found that with consistency, and some creativity, it is possible.
I heard of one story where a mom bought an empty 55-gallon water barrel and put it in the garage. When it was time to pick up the house she just tossed everything she could find that wasn’t where it should be into the barrel. When her kids would come to ask if she had seen their home work, or uniform, or shoes, she would just replay by asking, “I don’t know, did you check the barrel?”
For parents who consider their time and energy valuable, a small twist to the barrel technique can prove to be profitable. The first thing you will need is some sort of large container that can be locked such as a chest, trunk or even a 55-gallon barrel as long as it can be locked. Then you follow the same procedure as the parent in the story, only this time, when your kids return from the garage to tell you that the container is locked, you can reply by stating, “I will be glad to rent you the key to the container for 5 minutes for $5.00. And by the way, I will need the money up front.” Some kids will be able to pay in cash while others may need to pay in goods and services.
After sharing the 55-gallon barrel technique in one of my classes, a parent returned the next week to share how she had adapted the technique to fit her family and her personality. She shared that her son would leave his toys and games out all the time. So she decided to start hiding them. When her son asked her if she knew where his games were she would reply with a vague expression and say, “I think I may have seen them somewhere… in fact I may have put them somewhere… now let me think where did I put them? You know my memory is so bad lately; but I’ll tell you what, watching my kids wash dishes helps my memory every time. I bet that would help me at least remember what room it’s in.”
It is important to remember that this mom had a pretty good relationship with her son. So when she did this, he got frustrated a little, but at the same time he laughed a little and realized that his mom was just cleaning up and if he didn’t want to end up wondering around the house, searching each little crevice for his stuff, all he had to do was take care of it himself.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have fun setting limits with your kids.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.