A few months ago I started feeling like a maid.
It felt like all I did all day was clean up messes. Playtime was tornado time. Toys EVERYWHERE. Books EVERYWHERE.
Super super messy.
And mealtimes were a whole ‘nother level of mess….
If you have small children you know what I’m talking about. My husband gets twitchy whenever rice is on the menu.
I’ve never been especially tidy or worried too much about keeping a spotless house, but things were getting out of control.
Our toddler was showing a bit of interest in helping out, so I thought maybe he was ready to start taking on some responsibility.
We were in business.
There were 12 different responsibilities listed for 2-3 year olds. Instead of trying to tackle them all at once, I decided to zero in on one or two.
Enter OPERATION: CLEAR PLATES.
Here we go. Responsibility numero uno. Our toddler was going to learn how to manage clearing his place at the table after meals.
I started by asking how he felt about taking on this new responsibility.
“Hey bud? You know how I clear your plates when you’re done eating? Do you think you would like to do that? If you think you’re ready, I could show you how to clear your plates ALL BY YOURSELF. What do you think?”
(I think the key was the ALL BY YOURSELF bit. He’s totally into doing everything ALL BY HIMSELF these days.)
You’d think I asked if he wanted another serving of ice-cream. He was all-in.
I went through the steps, showing him how to carry his plates and silverware over to the counter and where to place them.
When he finished we had a huge round of high-fives.
Until about three nights later…
His initial excitement vanished. The novelty had worn off.
This is where I mucked things up for a few weeks.
I started trying to force him to clear his plates.
Here’s where I went wrong:
- I tried to make him clear his plates before he was allowed to leave the kitchen – RESULT: tantrum
- If he managed to escape the kitchen I would gather all his toys until he cleared his plates – RESULT: anger, resentment
His ‘fun’ new job quickly deteriorated into a power struggle.
I was trying to show I was boss by ‘making’ him do as I asked. And – shock of the century – he WAS NOT happy about being forced into clearing his plates.
Luckily I was able to recognize my mistaken approach and make corrections before we started throwing the plates at each other.
Here’s how I ‘fixed’ it:
- I dropped the ‘I’m gonna make him’ mentality
- I made a new routine – we had to clear our plates before we started a new activity (play outside, go for a walk, play downstairs)
- I let our toddler decide and live with the consequences of his choice – if he didn’t want to clear his plates, that was fine, but it meant we couldn’t start a new activity
We’ve been working on this for a few months. We’re at the point where most of the time he’ll clear his plates immediately after the meal. Usually at the end of the meal I’ll say something like, “I’ll push in my chair for you so it’s easier to clear your plates.” Or, “”Hey bud? Do you think you could help out and clear your plates?”
Sometimes this is all it takes. Other times he acts like he hasn’t heard me.
I let it slide.
When he asks to transition to a new activity, I’ll say something like, “Sure! Oh, you know what? I noticed your plates are still on the table. When your plates are cleared I’ll know you’re ready for insert next activity here.”
No nagging. No begging. Just a simple matter-of-fact statement.
It took a bit of practice, but now that’s all it takes.
He’ll scurry back to the kitchen and put all of his plates on the counter without another word.
What’s success without a few bumps along the way 🙂
Image Credit: Matt MacGillivray