I want to help Munchkin become a terrific person.
What decent parent doesn’t want that for their child??!!
One way we’re doing this, is trying to teach him some helpful skills. Things like looking after his belongings, being kind to others, being polite and thankful, and caring for himself. Habits of a lifetime. The sort of things that people frequently wish their flatmate or spouse had been taught (grin!). General, “how to live with other people and be a clean human being” type things.
In my family, we had a rule that you always had to put something away when you finished playing with it (BEFORE you were allowed to get out anything else). This has been helpful in adult life, remembering to tidy up a bit as I go along. I am a pretty messy person by nature. I get carried away in creativity. My mother frequently says she doesn’t know how I make so many dishes. Well, I do. I cook. Not just dinner, sometimes lunch or breakfast too. I’m one of those people who inevitably leave the kitchen with flour on their face, legs, (or in my case) bum (because I wipe my hands there – one of these days I’m going to get myself some wrap around chef-style aprons – I used them in my days at Subway and must say that someone like me who always wipes hands on the back of the legs, often unconsciously and despite my efforts otherwise, aprons like that are
FAB!). But, while I might make a lot of dishes, I do
rinse them. I try not to leave things in
the sink (Boyo HATES it, and to be honest, so do I – it’s awful when you want
to use the sink and it’s full of yucky, dirty dishes!). I like to go to bed with a tidy house…though
I’m trying not to worry too much about it so I don’t spend hours before bed
putting everything away!
We were finding that Munchkin’s toys were getting more and more messy and taking over more and more of our personal space. Having a small living area, I guess we really notice when there’s a lot of toys out. Invariably you trip all over them, or can’t find a vacant seat. We have always picked up his toys after he goes to bed, but I guess I was concerned that this is teaching him that other people (namely, his parents!) should pick up after his mess. So we’ve instigated a new rule recently. Munchkin must pick up his cars before bed. If he doesn’t, he will have them confiscated. We use that word: confiscated. A pretty big word for a three year old, especially considering it hadn’t previously been part of our vocab. But it’s the right word. We do of course combine it with explaining that this means he won’t be allowed to play with them tomorrow, that they will be put away. And we help him pack up. He’s a pretty cooperative player at present. He hates doing things like tidying on his own. That’s okay, I don’t mind helping when he’s this young. I just hate doing it all for him. So he has to pick up his cars before bed. I think there were two times in the first week or so that he didn’t want to or refused. Before this, we’d have harangued and hassled him, had big arguments, and more. And still ended up doing it ourselves, after having to calm down the screaming child. But now? Now, he just gets reminded of the consequences. Sometimes a few times, but then there’s always the “this is your last warning…” If he chooses not to pack up, he loses his cars. As his cars are very precious, this has worked incredibly well. I hadn’t worried about packing up other toys as there’s not the same incentive. I figured if I can get my three year old to pack up one area of the bomb-site that is our lounge, that’s okay. Besides, on an average day they are the most likely thing to have created the biggest mess. Grin.
But an interesting thing is happening. Now, when I say we have to pack up, he hardly ever complains. He still wants to do it with me (Boyo is usually finishing up dishes still as he does that while I bath and put Munchy to bed). BUT, if I say that Mr Crocodile or the wooden train need to go back to the office, Munchkin will cart them back there (all his toys are in a cupboard or on a shelf in the office, except some puzzles in a cupboard in the lounge, and his cars/car mat/garage). He is faster at doing it. He hardly ever pulls the “my arms are too sore!” (seriously, for awhile there his arms would suddenly get REALLY short!) or “I can’t!” or “You do it!” moves on me. Hardly ever. Wow. It took probably two weeks of being really relentless about it. The cars had to go on top of the kitchen cupboard and stay there for the whole day twice in a few days I think. And it was HARD. He would cry, he would carry on. It was frustrating. All the reasons we’d not done it before, all the reasons we’d given up and just done it ourselves (after all, I can pack up so much faster and tidier than my son anyway!). But it is WORTH IT. We are helping him be responsible for his own behaviour and his own belongings. We are helping him set up patterns that he will carry on (largely unconsciously) into his adult life.
Combined with this, we are also saying that Munchkin now has to hang up his bib after a meal (his special eating bib to catch things like spaghetti sauce!). It goes on one of his little chairs at his table. And he has to take his plate to the bench. If there’s rubbish, he might (but not always yet) get asked to put it in the rubbish bin, or food scraps. I want him to learn about looking after the environment, so he’s learning that we have containers for chicken food, for worm food, and then for the rubbish truck. Just like he’s learning that we have different washing baskets – one for woollen clothes and one for the others. He has to put his clothes in the washing basket before bed too. Again, it was hard establishing the habit, and sometimes I still do it myself, but mostly I get him to do it and he’s great at it! He’s cottoned on to what a woollen top looks like really quickly and again he’s doing it so much faster than the first week or two and with very little fuss, even when tired. I figure this is a necessary precursor to him doing his own washing!
I think one of the tricks with all these little chores, all these little things that get him tidying up after himself, is that we do them at the same time, in a similar way, every night. Every single day. (Okay, not quite, we have very occasionally forgotten but I’m trying to just make it routine). He knows now that after dinner, he has to put up his bib and then he’s allowed to get a few cars to play with at the table while we finish eating and I run his bath. Then after his bath, we pack up the lounge quickly, then get to dance to Daddy’s music. If we take too long packing up, we don’t get to dance. Plus the cars will still get confiscated if not packed up. Then we read books, then he puts his washing in the baskets, brushes his teeth, goes to the toilet, and goes to bed. It’s as much as part of our routine as Mummy cuddles and prayers are. I’m really enjoying it. And I’m really enjoying the pride I feel as I watch my boy tidy up after himself.