Behind a 21st Century Sephardic Revolution
By: Rachel Dayan
You’re finally done! After spending hours getting the house organized and neat, you survey the clean rooms with pride. Fast forward a few hours, and the evening is in full swing. You walk into the kitchen to get a drink and whoa! What happened to my spotless kitchen? Spilled juice on the counters and floor, closets and drawers thrown open and items (why is the milk out?) left scattered all over the place. Shoes, wrappers, homework. Sounds like a good time for Tylenol and a nap.
It’s amazing (and disheartening) how kids can generate so much chaos so quickly. In the scope of child misbehaviors, orderliness is probably not your top concern. But if you don’t have a housekeeper to shadow the kids and clean up after them (and even if you do), it’s a good idea to teach the kids to pick up after themselves, so you don’t wind up doomed to perform that endless, thankless task yourself. Besides, it’s a crucial skill that will serve them throughout their lives. Of course, it takes a fair amount of training to get them to pick up their own trail, but it gets smoother with time and these helpful tips will make your daily clean up tasks much easier.
Give Them the Tools
Children should be responsible to clean up after themselves, but their parents must first lay the proper foundations for them. Besides for the obvious aspect that parents should set a good example by being clean themselves, the home should be set up in a way that enables the children to be neat.
Clean homes usually have a system of where things go and how they are put away, which makes it easy for children to follow. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate scheme , just the simple rule that everything has a place. Take the typical scenario where a six-year-old comes home, takes off her coat, and leaves it on the floor. The child may know that the coat should be hung up in the closet. But, examining the situation from her point of view, we can understand why it may not be that simple. Often the rod is too high, or the closet is too crowded, or it’s hard to find any hangers available. In order to make it feasible for your six-year-old to put away her coat every day, you would have to make coat hanging feasible, by installing a low hook and leaving an adequate supply of hangers. Children also need their own personal spaces to put their things (even the assorted junk they keep accumulating that you wish would disappear). When cleanup is a simple task of returning items to their places, it becomes a reasonable expectation for children to help out.
Every Step of the Way
Somehow it always seems that when kids are the least able, they are the most willing (think eager four-year-olds). And when they are the most able, they are the least willing (think typical teenagers). With that in mind, you are better off training your kids to help from a very young age, while they still find it exciting so that later on it becomes a habit. When your toddler makes a crummy mess, hand him the portable vac. Try not let it slide because he is young and you are busy. If your daughter spills her juice, hand her a paper towel. The quality of the job done is less important than the lesson. And if done consistently, the training will stick. Later, when they are older, and you are even busier, they will know what to do on their own.
Training your Soldiers
Throughout the course of a typical day, you’ll find many opportunities to accustom your children to clean up after themselves. Instead of being reactive to the messes, give out instructions in anticipation of the impending opportunity to cleanup. While the kids are getting ready for a shower, ask them where the clothes they just took off belong. When they are playing, teach them to put away the toys they are tired of, before they reach for more. Instead of instinctively putting things away, ask, “Who took this out or left this here?” and ask them to put it away. Eventually, they will become more habituated to cleaning up after themselves. Kids are always testing boundaries, to see what they can get away with. If you don’t ask them to clear their plate from the table, or put their shoes away, and if eventually you do it yourself (or the housekeeper does it), your child will probably decide he enjoys that arrangement and he will continue to expect others to clean up after him. And though your son might appreciate your efforts, your future daughter-in-law will probably not be excited to take over this role.
It is far better to get your kids to feel positive about cleanup, training them from a young age and encouraging them daily. But sometimes stronger measures are called for, when you want your kids to take your efforts seriously and get into the habit of picking up their stuff.
The logical consequence of leaving stuff around would be to confiscate whatever is making your house a mess. A daily approach is to give your children some time to collect their scattered belongings from the four corners of the Earth. Anything left at the end of the allotted time-frame will be confiscated for a few days. (And if they never come to collect it, it might actually be something they don’t want anymore.) On a daily basis, you can also let your children know that if you have to tell them more than twice to pick something up, you will confiscate the item. At first, they might not care… until you confiscate a wallet with snack money, the new toy, or even their favorite pajamas.
Maid in the Shade
If you want to train your kids to help out, the first step is to fire the housekeeper. Just kidding!
I’m not anti-help. But there is no denying that kids get lazy when there is a housekeeper, mostly because Mommy gets more laid back about asking them to pick up. After all, if Mommy walks away and comes back later, it will all be gone. But, oh boy, do kids get oblivious to the messes they make when they aren’t the ones cleaning them up. So if you have cleaning help, let her scrub your home till it sparkles, but make sure you still hold your children responsible for the messes they make. Your kids won’t like it now, but ultimately you will be doing them (and their eventual spouses) and yourself a big favor!
I always expect my children to help keep the house neat, and I also spend time explaining to them why. If someone steps on a toy and hurts his foot, I use that as an opportunity to explain why it’s important to clean up. I always compliment them on a job well done, and use comments like, “Isn’t a neat house enjoyable? Isn’t it great when we don’t have to look for lost things?”
When I started my own home,I began wondering where the little elves who tidy up the house disappeared to! I grew up with a maid, so I couldn’t fathom how much mess two “clean” adults could create. I learned fast… and now I teach my kids so they won’t have the same experience.
I try to make clean-up fun for the kids by putting on a “clean up song” sung by Uncle Moishy. I also allow each child to select which games/jobs they want to clean up or do, I find this really helps the cooperation.
Next month: Incentives that Really Motivate Young People