I recently found myself in a battle situation. Over cleaning, of all things. Not the most important thing, but here we were fighting about it nevertheless. I felt like I was always nagging the kids to clean up, with very little success. Their room was a complete disaster zone. I would eventually clean it up, only to have it looking much the same not long after, leading me to feeling angry and frustrated. Didn’t they appreciate what I’d done? Couldn’t they just put their stuff away? The struggle to get them to clean up the play room was much the same. I would spend time making the room nice for them, setting up things for them to use, and at the end of the day we would end up fighting over cleaning it up. I would be telling them a million times to do things, they would be moving slower than I thought possible and getting distracted by the smallest things. Basically doing anything they could to avoid cleaning. We had entered a world of power struggles, threatening, and bribing. Wow, how did that creep up on us? That is not what we’re about! Something had to be done.
As we do, my husband and I talked things over. We wondered whether we were expecting too much of them. We questioned where we had gone wrong! We didn’t really know what to do, and so we decided on an experiment. We decided instead of telling, there would be more doing. Yes, we decided to actually stop asking them to clean up. Ever. We decided to do it all ourselves.
We hoped that by leading by example we might effect more change than by trying to force them to do it. That was the idea anyway, but we didn’t have great expectations. We thought it was quite possible that they would think that this was a pretty sweet deal. That they might relax even more, thinking someone else would always clean up after them. But what else was there to do? We didn’t like how things were going, something had to change. An experiment seemed worth a shot, and we had nothing to lose. So we did it.
And it has been AMAZING.
Firstly, for me, when I stopped expecting them to help and trying to coerce them in to it I immediately felt less stressed. I had no expectations of them helping so there was nothing to be frustrated about. I expected that I would be cleaning everything for a while and they would be enjoying a relaxing time while watching me work, but we didn’t even have that.
Instead, you won’t believe what I have heard. From the first day, when I went down to the play room by myself to tidy up…
‘Mum, I can help you if you like?’
‘I think it would be nice if I helped you Mum’
‘It’s nice to help isn’t it?’
‘I like cleaning up with you, Mum!’
‘How about a helping hand?’
I know, I know, it’s hard to believe. But, this is exactly what has happened. When we took away the stress and the pressure, we saw how helpful they really were. They want to help. They like to. Instead of telling them what to do and ordering them around, we showed them. They see that looking after these areas is important because we show them with our actions. Cleaning is no longer a stressful thing, but something we can enjoy doing together.
“Children need models rather than critics.” -Joseph Joubert
I did worry that this might make things worse. That I was ‘letting them off the hook’. That they would never learn to clean up, to respect their things, to help! But this hasn’t been the case. Children want to do the right thing, they want to be helpful, they want to be involved. It’s just about approaching it in a different way. I wouldn’t demand another adult do things around my house according to my schedule. I would feel rude. I would hope that they would just join in and offer their help. And so I took the same approach with my children, and they did.
They amaze me and teach me something new every day.