Category Archives: Kids and Cleaning

Outsmarted and Outfoxed: When Kids Call Your Bluff


Dana Macario at the mom blog “18 Years to Life” recently wrote an account of how, to teach her kids to pick up their toys, she and her husband gathered up all the toys strewn about, stuffed them into large trash bags, put them in a closet and told their kids that for each night they picked up the rest of their toys, they could earn back one of the “hostage” toys. Logic would dictate that the kids would want their toys back badly, and it would take so long to earn them back, that once earned back, the kids would think twice in the future about leaving them lying everywhere. Logic would say this was a great way to teach kids a lesson in being neat without having to nag, “Pick up your toys!!”  Only Dana’s kids chose not to earn their toys back. They’d keep leaving out toys, and got them taken away. When one night they did pick up their toys, her husband offered them the choice of a chocolate or a toy, and they both chose the chocolate! So now Dana is left with several bags of unused toys, a less cluttered home (bonus!!), kids who have shown they don’t need a lot of “stuff” to be happy (double bonus!), and an impending garage sale.  Definitely not the outcome she expected, but an interesting one nonetheless.


Dana’s story reminded of me of when Allison was around 10 or 11, Andy and I decided to try something similar in an attempt to get her to keep her room picked up. Too many clothes were lying all over the floor, so we bagged everything up that was on the floor and put it in the attic, and told her that as she kept her room picked up, she would earn back the clothes, one piece at a time.  Surely a clothes fanatic like her would care a lot about getting them back, since all that was left behind were a just a few items. But darned if she didn’t keep throwing those clothes on the floor, and wore the same pair of jeans for about a MONTH, no doubt to show that by golly, no one was going to “make” her do anything.  Seriously! I remember the jeans well, because they had a peacock embroidered on one leg…


I’m a longtime fan of the Love and Logic series of parenting books and CDs, and “logical” parenting in general, but any parent who tries to teach logical lessons needs to realize, if a successful outcome depends on a kid acting in a certain way, the lesson can backfire. But when it’s just the parent involved in a consequence, it works.  For example,  if a child disrespects a parent while a parent is driving them somewhere, the parent can do numerous logical things that are great consequences but that don’t depend on any predictable actions from the child–  the parent can pull over to the side of the road and wait a few minutes or longer until the child calms down;  the parent can turn the car around and drive home, telling the child he/she will not be going to that activity; the parent can say they are not providing transportation to the next scheduled activity, etc.   Nothing is required of the child in return– the parent is simply saying, through their actions, “If I’m not treated with respect while I’m doing such and such for you, then I’m just not going to do such and such.  I’m taking care of myself, I’m not allowing myself to be treated badly.”  Does the success of that “technique” depend on the kid not ever disrespecting the parent again? No.  You hope the child will learn from that incident to be respectful in the future, but if not, you just repeat your actions the next time the disrespect is shown, and are a success every time because you are showing your child that you are taking care of yourself.  And, you are teaching that actions have consequences. 


When kids’ actions are an “expected” part of the outcome, beware. One of Love and Logic’s well-worn “success” stories/teaching tools is how one of the book’s authors used to fight with his kids about bedtime, but everything worked out just peachy keen once he started telling them they could stay up as late as they wanted. The first night of their new-found freedom, they stayed up real late, and were so tired the next day at school, it was a beautiful lesson learned.  No more fighting over bedtime, and the very next night and every night from then on, the kids got to bed at earlier bedtimes, on their own, because they didn’t like the way they felt when they were tired the next day.  Well, la-dee-freakin’-da.  I seriously wonder if that really happened.  Both of my kids, who have very different personalities from each other, often stay up late on school nights, and are very tired the next day, but only once in awhile do they ever put two and two together, that if they got more sleep, they’d feel better the next day.  I quit fighting with them about bedtime long ago, but the “logical” outcome is only a sweet dream…


Kids, God bless their creative, independent souls, are unpredictable, which a lot of parenting authors probably don’t want us to believe.  Many kids will and do outsmart the “pat answers”, the books and TV therapists who think they know it all, and even outsmart us when we think we’ve come up with something original.  That doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to teach our kids lessons, but when we do we need to have our eyes wide open, being honest with ourselves about our children and thinking about what to do “what if” a child’s actions don’t go as we’ve planned.  Are we really prepared to deal with Plan B?  If not, does our original plan need to change?


My friend Bob once tried to teach a logical lesson to his eldest son.  The son was scheduled to have a much-anticipated out of town sleepover with his younger brothers at Grandma’s but found out, just before he was to leave, that some friends were playing football in the park that evening, and had invited him to play. He badly wanted to go, as he didn’t often get invited to these gatherings and told his Dad that he didn’t want to go to Grandma’s.  His Dad was very disappointed in this but rather than saying flat out no, he told him, “Okay, if that’s what you want, then the entire sleepover has to be cancelled, because you need to be there to help out with your brothers, but you are going to be the one to break the news to Grandma, who is really looking forward to this, and you have to tell your brothers, who are also looking forward to this.”  Bob figured it would cause him to think twice about the consequences of his selfish intentions, and choose to go to Grandma’s.  He thought he knew his son pretty well. But, his son chose football, much to his Grandma’s, his brothers’ and his dad’s disappointment, not to mention his mom’s, who was looking forward to a kid-free weekend!


Some child development experts would say that Dana, Bob and I should be glad our kids “don’t fit the mold”, that they are unpredictable, independent thinkers who think outside the box.  These kinds of kids will be “the leaders of tomorrow” I once read, the entrepreneurs, the ones not afraid to do things differently. 


If that’s really the case, then I guess I’m gonna have two very successful kids in the future, because actions keep defying logic around here on a daily basis…

Unskilled for Living: “Chores” should not be a dirty word

Whenever Allison has to pack her own lunch bag before school, I often hear the “But nobody else has to make their own lunch!” complaint.  Many parents would probably say, “You don’t know everybody” to that one, or my answer, “Well, I feel sorry for them!”  but secretly I wonder that she just may be right, sadly.  When she was in a jr. high “Skills for Living” class (the politically correct title for what we knew as Home Ec), she came home on the first day to say that her teacher took a survey, and by a show of hands she was one of only a couple teens who did their own laundry, one of only a couple who’d ever sewn anything and the only one who’d ever cooked a meal for her family.  I don’t think she was sure whether to be proud of that or not.  “Mom, one girl was shocked and some people felt sorry for me,” she said.

I know another person who’d never washed dishes by hand or even loaded a dishwasher until they were in their early 20’s.  What has happened to our society?  Is this helicopter parenting at its finest?

“Oh, I’d love for them to help out, but my kids are too busy with homework and activities to have time to do chores or even clean their rooms,” I hear from many parents.  Yeah, so are mine, but there is always a weekend day where they have free time now and then. (And if your kids don’t even have that, you may want to seriously re-think your schedule.) And the chores I ask my kids to do on weekdays are small, like “Empty the downstairs trashcans”, or “Wipe the fingerprints off the microwave”.  The research and evidence is endless– chores (also known by the kinder, gentler, more modern name of household tasks) build character, and they diminish that sense of “entitlement” so many kids have these days.  Household tasks, shared by a family, diminish the stress felt by busy parents.  And learning living skills at a young age keeps kids from being “crippled” later in life because they don’t know how to live without Mom or Dad. 

“Well, I want my kids to have good memories of me, I don’t want to be a mean mom if I ask my family to help out,” my own mother used to say.  My mom did so many other sweet and funny things when I was growing up, if she’d asked everyone to help clear off the table after meals, the good memories would not be diminished.  And she did teach me to do my own laundry when I was in 10th grade, and let me cook an entire meal one night each week, and I am grateful for that, not resentful!

Some parents think kids or teens aren’t capable of doing certain chores.  Huh? Yet those same parents would let them start driving a car at age 15? And buy them their own at 16? I think if they can’t clean up their room, cook a simple meal, put soap, water and clothes in a tub and turn a few dials (c’mon, it’s not rocket science), or maneuver a dust mop, they sure shouldn’t be allowed to maneuver 2,000+ pounds of bone-crushing steel. 

“My kids won’t do their chores,” I’ve heard, “and I just don’t have the time to argue with them.  I’m better off if I just do things myself.”  That’s one area, thankfully, where I don’t spend a lot of time arguing. Because it’s simple– kid doesn’t do a chore, kid has consequences.  At our house, for daily chores, it’s $1 off allowance for each chore not done.  I just mark it on a white board and move on.  And if your room’s not clean, you don’t get to go anywhere fun on the weekend or have friends over until it’s clean.  Yes, sometimes, those rooms get so messy it drives me crazy, and I just have to close their doors and hope things get done.  And it always does, eventually. And yes, sometimes I still get spluttering protests (“But, — I have to go now! I’ll clean my room tomorrow!) but I can stay cool as a cucumber, because I have the power.  I’m still the chauffeur.  “I’ll be happy to take you when you’re done,” I say.  And maybe next time they’ll realize if they just pick up a couple things each day, it won’t be a mountain on the weekend. (I’m still waiting for that to sink in.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder was teaching school at age 15.  (Thank you, Meg, for supplying the correct answer to last week’s Freebie Friday question and winning the book.)  Tell your teen that the next time they complain about what they “can’t” do!

The Big “But”

I’m throwing in the towel about…well, about throwing the towel.  And the clothes. And the shoes, magazines, old shopping bags, old Kleenexes, and everything else that my teen manages to throw on her floor.  See, I’ve decided, with the high school years dawning bright and early on Monday, that I’m giving up the battle of the teen bedroom. I’ve decided that my daughter is truly not a morning person and I’m tired of deducting allowance every time her bed isn’t made or her clothes aren’t picked up by noon.  Like I said in a previous post, she always has to pick up her room if friends are coming over, but the rest of the time, it’s her choice to keep it clean or not.  And get allowance or not.  And most of the time, she chooses “or not”.  

But
, my new frame of mind doesn’t mean she gets to ride off into the sunset to Slobland, unbridled.  Au contrare. I’ve just decided to “loosen the reins” a bit and put her on a different path, hoping she will “turn it around.”  I’m taking the advice of my sister-in-law, Amy (and no, she doesn’t own a horse!).

I’m going to tell Allison, “Guess what? You don’t have to worry about allowance and clothes shopping trips being tied to keeping your room clean.” She’s going to be so happy to hear that!  Then comes the great big “But”, the grand caveat, the wonderful “however”:
But, I’m taking a couple minutes each morning after you leave, to scoop up anything left on the floor and put it into the hamper.” Keep in mind, this isn’t just any hamper– she has one of those retro hampers built into the wall that goes directly to the laundry room, one floor below– kind of like Willy Wonka’s bad egg chute (ah, the similarities she has with Veruca Salt never cease to amaze me…).   
So it should be somewhat of a hassle when she has to walk downstairs to fish clothes out of the laundry room chute every morning or evening, and who wants clothes to be as wrinkled as they can get in there? Throw in stinky socks and a wet bath towel and it’s a delightful fabric soup…slowly simmering.  It just may lead to her keeping her clothes picked up every day. If it doesn’t, I will at least have the satisfaction of looking into her room and seeing a clean floor. (As for allowance, it will continue, it will just be dependent on the rest of the things on our “list”– like turn off lights, take your plate to the sink after mealsno eating at the computer, and no hitting your sister!)

As for an unmade bed,  Amy says I ought to strip it and also put the sheets, etc. down the hamper, so she’ll have to make it every night if she doesn’t change her ways.  But I know my kid, and I know she’d probably be happy to sleep on the bare mattress with a stadium blanket or a jacket for a cover rather than make up her bed at night (she once slept on top of her perfectly made-up bed for a week in order not to lose allowance).  I think I’m going to let go of harping about the bed, and again, she’ll heave a sigh of relief. “BUT,” I’ll say, “you know that new queen-sized bed and headboard you’ve been wanting, and all the new bedding?” She will no doubt nod a yes– she still sleeps on the firm, twin mattress she’s had since she was 5.  And then I’ll say, “It doesn’t make sense to invest in a new bed like that if you can’t keep a smaller one looking nice.”  We’ll see what happens. Either she’ll get a new habit and get a new bed, or she’ll keep the bed unmade every day and we’ll save hundreds of dollars. 

Meanwhile, usually all I have to do to get my 10-year-old to pick up her room and make the bed is to just ask.  Or say, “No breakfast until your room’s done.” My teenager would rather starve! ###

Our Easter Bunny was a Dust Bunny

Just within the last six months, my 10-year-old finally, officially learned that a giant bunny really doesn’t break into our house every Easter to hide baskets of goodies (seriously, I think if I hadn’t said anything, she’d have held tightly to that belief well into her 20’s), so Easter was a lot more low-key this year. But we still were visited by a bunny, just of a different kind– or I should say, this Easter I re-acquainted myself with the dust bunnies that have taken up permanent residency in my kids’ rooms. 

I don’t think the “spring cleaning” urge has hit my kids yet.  I stood at each of their doorways, shaking my head in disbelief.  What is it about kids and not keeping their rooms picked up? I don’t get it. Especially with the teenager, who realizes how much she likes her room when she can see the furniture, likes how much easier it is to get ready for school when she doesn’t have to hear a “crunch” while walking across the bedroom floor, from stepping on sunglasses, CDs, empty makeup bottles and such, that are buried under piles of clothes.  She appreciates her clean room when she’s worked hard to clean it up– so why does it take less than 24 hours for it to be unrecognizable once again?  If anyone has read anything about this and has answers, please share.  Is it part of most kids’  DNA, like hating vegetables and procrastinating about homework? Or something that shows extreme creativity in certain people (yeah, maybe that’s it– their rooms are like big canvases…)  Or maybe it’s kids’ subconscious way of exerting control in a world where they feel they don’t have much control over anything (ah, nothing like a little psychoanalysis to figure things out…)

I know my kids are not alone in their brazen slobbishness.  I’ve heard it many times from other people about their own kids.  And sometimes I’ve seen other kids’ rooms up close.  I’ll never forget an interview I did for a newspaper story I was writing about a local “Barbie artist”– it was for a special section on the 40th anniversary of the Barbie doll, and this artist made collages out of Barbie-related objects.  Anyway, she was taking me on a tour of her house, showing me the Barbie art hanging in the hallway, when we walked by what appeared to be a bedroom.  The door was open and it was a disaster zone inside.  “Sorry,” she apologized, closing the door.  “I have a teenaged daughter.” To which I “knowingly” offered a piece of advice– me, who only had one 4-year-old child at the time (and the artist knew that from our initial chit chat)– “We have a rule at our house,” I said.  “Our daughter can’t have friends over or go play anywhere if her room’s not picked up.”  Thankfully the woman just smiled politely and said something like “That’s good,” instead of throwing me out.  (I realized pretty quickly what a doofus I’d been and just knew my “know-it-all” comment would come back to haunt me someday!)

Yes, we do still have that rule and if we didn’t, I think my teen’s room might never get picked up. True, if you read the entry posted previously about our
allowance system, you’d see there are also allowance dollars tied to keeping their rooms picked up, and allowance is lost daily if they don’t.  But, I wrote that the allowance system has worked to shape only some behaviors with the teenager– one of those behaviors is not, unfortunately, room cleaning.  I kid you not– in the 16 months since we’ve had that allowance system in place, I can count on two hands the number of weeks she’s made a daily effort to earn allowance by keeping her room picked up.  And as a result, she has far less money to spend on clothes.  She loves clothes and shopping more than just about anything else in the world, so I’ve never fully understood why she gives up the opportunity to have more, by not doing something as simple as pull up a comforter and throw clothes in the hamper each day before things get out of control.  Is that so hard? She says it is.  So, at least things get picked up on the days when friends are coming over.  

Even I must have been the same way when I was growing up.  I don’t remember how bad the mess ever got, but I do remember my Dad poking his head into my room once in awhile, a grin on his face like a cat that ate a bird, saying, “Hey, did anyone get hurt?”
“Huh?” I’d reply, falling unawares right into his joke. “What are you talking about?”
“You know, when the tornado hit in here,” he’d say. “Did anyone get hurt?”
I probably threw a dirty sock at him and chased him away.