The toys are taking over.
You’ve made it. The kids are finally in bed and you’re finally able to relax. Except, what’s that you notice as you walk down the stairs? What is all that stuff piled on top of the couch? Oh right: the toys. They’re all over the floors, cover every single piece of furniture, and some have even snuck their way inside the fridge. The only place you cannot see one single toy is in the bins, baskets, and built-in cabinets you cleared out specifically for toy storage. How did this happen?
Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere.
Chances are you’ve been too busy all day to actually play with any of those toys and you certainly did not leave them spread out and piled up everywhere. It’s time to learn the clean up song! Children clean up at schools and daycares, singing as they go, because it’s part of the routine. With patience and practice, this can become second-nature at home too.
During the day, explain to your children that everyone needs to help tidy up before going upstairs, discuss the plan with them, and ask them if they have any questions. Then after dinner, ask if they’d prefer to tidy up right away or play for ten more minutes and tidy up when the timer beeps. Of course they’ll choose to play, so set the timer on the stove and leave them to their toys. Do not feel obligated to play with them: you’ve already spent a bunch of quality time together and will soon be bonding during bathtime and bedtime cuddles. This ten minutes is your chance to get a headstart on cleaning up the kitchen. Similar to toy clean-up, why would you want to leave dirty dishes for your me-time? So hustle with those pots and pans while the kids feel like you’re awesome because you gave them bonus play-time.
When the timer beeps and they fail to spontaneously start tidying up, let them know you’ll be happy to help them when you see they’ve started putting toys away. At first, this likely won’t get you anywhere. Act surprised and say “Hmm, I guess next time I won’t be able to give you that choice and we’ll have to go straight upstairs after dinner.” Speak softly as though you’re talking to yourself. If they still don’t react, tell them you’re going to set the timer for five more minutes and at that point it’s bathtime. Remind them that any toys left out will be put into bags to take to GoodWill. Be prepared to ignore plenty of drama and insults on the first day, which will taper off as your kids adapt to the new norm. Also be prepared to follow-through on the GoodWill donation, so you might want to pre-clear the room of their favourites.
Your children need to respect that you are not Mary Poppins and it takes more than a simple click of the fingers to tidy up. When you explain the plan to them beforehand and give them options, you’re demonstrating that you value their opinions. This helps them feel more respected and cooperative. Involving everyone before bedtime means you’re not stuck with the task and won’t start to feel taken for granted. Demonstrating that you follow through on what you say you’ll do teaches them that you’re not a doormat. And we’re stating the obvious here, but who doesn’t want to find an extra ten minutes in a day?