Cleaning a Bedroom | Teaching Self-Government

Cleaning a Bedroom

boy cleaning room
"I'm having trouble figuring out a good consequence beyond time out for my 3 yr old.  He and his brother who just turned 6 share a room.  I gave them an instruction to clean their room this morning, and he left the room to play with toys before it was done.  I told him, "just now I told you to clean your room, and you said ok, and then you didn't do it.  You left your brother to do it all alone.  That makes it take a long time for your room to get done, and then it takes a long time before you can have breakfast!  You chose not to clean so we need to have a time out."  He went into time out nicely, and loved being praised for being good in time out after his 3 minutes were up.  He promised to finished cleaning.  But then he did it again.  We repeated the process and he had a second time out, but he left time out before the time was up.  Is it bad to use the same consequence twice in a row?  Do consequences always need to get bigger?  I don't want to keep using time out, but I don't have a chore to give him that would punish him either - he likes doing chores!  I don't know if he is big enough to understand SODAS, so should I just move to loss of privileges?  Or should I plan a treat and take his snack privileges (we don't usually have snacks or treats so it would require a trip to the store)?"

First, you are so good for not having treats a lot.  I wish I were so good about that. 

The second thought that comes to my mind is that your six year old is getting punished for your three year old's bad behavior.  Your 3 year old might notice that his distraction is making it so that he doesn't really ever have to clean up. 

If your 3 year old is not following instructions, your other son should either stop cleaning and wait until the job can be done fairly, or be assigned a certain portion of the room and leave the other portion for the 3 year old to finish when he is in instructional control. 

Another thought.  Could your 3 year old possibly feel overwhelmed by the large task of cleaning a whole room?  Until a person learns that a big job is only a bunch of little jobs, the one big job = anxiety.  It goes back to the old example of how do you eat an elephant?  

You may want to assign him a certain part of the room, or to clean up all the shoes first etc.  I would also have the boys each do their parts at different times.  Have the youngest boy clean up all the blocks and then check back for praise.  Then have the bigger boy clean up all the cars and check back.  Then repeat with something else until the job is done. 

You could even make a game out of how long it takes to get the job done.  Count for the first boy and then count for the second boy.  They will soon see from a game like this that cleaning the room doesn't really take that long and that the big job is really only a few little jobs.  Decrease the anxiety for them.  We often have a 60 second pick up.  My children know that cleaning doesn't take a long time, so they can almost pick up the whole upstairs by the time I get done counting to 60. 

Remember, to be a part of the process until they get it down.  If you run off to do something else while they do their cleaning assignment, they will not be able to stay disciplined on their own. 

I know that seems to go against the whole idea of doing the job themselves.  But, we weren't made mothers to be efficient.  We weren't made mothers to get everything done in one hour.  We were made mothers so that we could help our children learn how to become amazing adults.  This goal takes time.  How much?  Undetermined; just do your best.  That will be how much time it takes.  I know there are lots of pressures on us, but we really need to stop worrying about how much time we don't have.  It makes anxiety in us and our families. 

A good friend of mine introduced me to the philosophy of not being busy.  She is an amazingly busy person and she said to me, "I have decided that I am not busy".  I realized that she was right.  Business is a state of mind.  Whenever I remember to choose not to be busy, I am much happier.  This doesn't mean that I some how got more done, or that I do less, it just means that I have chosen not to beat myself up over whatever I haven't done yet.  Life is too precious to be rushed and stressed all the time.  (YIKES!  That was a tangent!)

As far as how you used time-out in your example.  You took him to time out and then praised and then talked.  Perfect!  He did the same thing and then you brought him right back!  Perfect!  It is also a good idea to practice following instructions before you go back to the original instruction.  Help them be OK with any instruction before you determine if they are really in control yet. 

You let him get away with walking off.  Not a good idea.  If it worked to walk away, he just learned to try to find ways to manipulate you and his consequences so that he doesn't have to choose a change of heart. 

It is not bad to use the same consequence twice in a row.  If you consistently walk him to time-out EVERY time he doesn't follow instructions etc., then you are showing him cause and effect perfectly.  You may not see him in pain, but he is still learning cause and effect.  Just make sure to leave his chore for him to do when he gets off, so that he can't ever run away from what he doesn't want to do.  If you ever have to do a chore for an out of control child, let them know that the chore has been replaced with another equal chore. 

Chores don't always need to get bigger for a three year old that is out of control, but for a child that is over 5 years old, you should do regular intensive teaching for out of control behavior.  An out of control three year old will just end up going back to time-out a lot.  You could add other consequences if you think he would respond.

Make your 3 year old his own economy.  You could start having snacks and have him loose snack, or you could make loosing friend time be part of his system and then schedule friend time for the other children.  Some children need to see themselves loosing something in order to become motivated to care about choosing to control themselves.  I have found that I need to schedule enough fun things in my week that my children see things they could loose.  If your life has no privleges, then your children will see no reason to care about earning their privileges.   

If you want a big consequence for him, you might choose to have him loose his privileges for and hour or some time period shorter than 24 hours.  Make sure he knows that he doesn't get to start his time until he can say OK to instructions.

You said that your son likes chores.  Good.  Chores don't have to hurt.  We shouldn't focus on hurting our children.  Consequences don't have to cause pain to be effective.  When they chose wrong and have to be governed by the system they learn cause and effect with or without pain.

Don't forget to show him what his positive consequences are for following instructions.  Sometimes we forget to give our children a reason to care about doing a task etc.  Pre-teaching works great for presenting what will happen depending on what they choose. 

No worries!  He will stop manipulating when you have chosen a system that works for him and consistently use it.  Keep your tolerances low and he will learn faster, and you will all be happier. 

Note* If he leaves time out before his time is done, then he is not accepting his consequence.  He should earn something like a chore or lose a privilege for this type of behavior. 

Tip* try to use rationals that will matter to him, like "When you choose not to follow the instruction to clean your room, you are really choosing to loose some of your play time in time out.  If you choose to say OK and immediately get your room clean, you will have so much more time to play."  You get the idea. 

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