My oldest child, Adam, is 4 1/2 years old. I want him to learn, however much he can given his age and personality, how to tackle a mess. Fortunately, his room is a great learning tool, especially in the last few weeks since I put in a “craft tower” for him (a stack of drawers for markers, crayons, glue, paper, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, and so on).
It is very tempting for me to go in and “help” him (or just do everything while he’s away at preschool) but I feel it’s important for him to 1) learn how to clean up a mess, and 2) experience the effects of his previous choices (e.g., to leave scraps of paper all over the floor).
I find it’s important, and also fair, to be specific when giving him instructions about cleaning his room. This morning I instructed him to clean off his table/desk by way of picking up an item and deciding where it belongs, then putting it away. If he doesn’t know where some things belongs, I instructed him to put them in a specific corner of his room, for us to work on later.
By following this procedure, I hope he will learn to take responsibility for his things; get reinforcement in the idea that most of his belongings do have a specifc place where they, well, belong; and get practice in focusing his attention over a period of time.
It’s not uncommon for Adam to pout, huff, or otherwise throw some sort of little fit when he’s instructed to do a particular task. Being the old-fashioned mom that I am, I generally do not accept that behavior. This morning he has twice been sent to lie down for 20-30 minutes at a time, as a consequence for his fits (during this “time-out” he is not allowed to talk, look at books, etc.).
Without a doubt, it is a lot of work for me to oversee his work and to follow through with discipline. I am not always up to the challenge, and I try to give myself, and Adam, some grace on those days. But all in all, I believe that it is worthwhile to put effort into this. I believe that if he is expected to follow directions without “giving attitude” and to take responsibilty for his belongings, that will help prepare him to be successful student, friend, adult, husband, and citizen.