So ROUND ONE of teaching our toddler to clean up his own spills was a complete FAIL.
(A quick recap: After my first teaching attempt, he started pouring his milk on the floor on purpose. Yeah. It was super fun.)
Moving forward, I decided to shelve my ‘I’m gonna make him’ attitude – after all, I don’t know ANYONE who likes being bossed around.
After an internal pep-talk, I was ready to give it another shot.
I decided to focus on these four things:
- Reinforce the idea that with freedom comes responsibility
I explained to G that part of drinking out of a cup means handling it carefully. I let him know that if he was having a hard time not spilling his milk, it was okay and I wasn’t mad. He could use a spill-proof sippy cup instead. Whenever he ‘accidentally’ spilled his milk, I’d say, “Oops! Looks like you’re having a hard time managing the cup. No problem – I’ll get the sippy cup.”
No judgement, no looks of disapproval. Just a simple matter-of-fact statement.
An important note: This isn’t about punishing him for making a mistake – it’s about accountability and taking responsibility for his actions. He wants to drink out of the ‘grown up’ cup? He needs to show that he is responsible for handling it carefully.
- Show faith in his capabilities
Whenever I had to revert back to using the spill-proof style cup, I always let him know that I believed in his capabilities. When he showed disappointment at having to use the sippy cup, I’d say something along the lines of, “You don’t want to use the sippy-cup? Ok, we can try again with the regular cup tomorrow. I know you’ll be able to handle it carefully.”
The end. No negotiating, no giving in. He could try again tomorrow, but for the rest of the day he’d be drinking out of a sippy-cup.
- Focus on strengths
When we got past the ‘accidental’ spilling, it was time for him to try managing genuine spills on his own.
This was tough. G did not initially have the same definition of “clean” as I did. For him to be successful, I needed to let this go. If I only focused on the parts he missed I was going to lose his cooperation pretty quickly.
Just think – which is more motivating for you: When your boss notices that extra assignment you handed in? Or when your boss doesn’t mention the extra assignment and instead only points out that you missed a comma in one of the paragraphs? So how do you think our kids feel when instead of noticing that they took the initiative to clean up on their own, we only point out the spots they missed?
Here’s what I did: I zipped my lips when I felt the urge to nag about that tiny little speck he missed. Instead, I let him know that I noticed his contribution by saying something like, “You did it! You cleaned up the milk all by yourself!” If I really couldn’t handle the part he missed, I’d clean it up after he was out of the room so I didn’t undermine his effort.
Little by little, he became more thorough. As he improved, I’d offer more guidance on the missed areas. A simple, “Did you get it all?” was usually enough to get him to take another look and try again.
- Be patient
Perhaps the hardest thing to master in all of parenting – patience. Teaching cooperation and responsibility doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with your little one – it will likely take many, many spills until they get the hang it. But if you can maintain a calm, kind attitude while teaching them the ropes they’ll be well on their way. 😉
Have you had any difficulty getting your toddler to clean up after himself? What worked or didn’t work for you?
Image Credit: Marina Thompson