Mookie and Joy had been doing a quick room clean-up before bed, which was working really well; Mookie liked having a clean room, and after several days of this, she didn’t balk at the small amount of tidying needed to clear away the day’s toys, the way she does at a bigger job. Then they let it slide for about a week and the room was getting a little overwhelming. That happens. So I said we needed to do a room cleanup today. Mookie strenuously resisted the big incentive–being able to build a marble run in her room once we’d cleared out a nice big space–arguing that we should just build it in the living room the way we usually do. But I resisted back. I also resisted her plan to clean it tomorrow. Yeah, when she gets back from six hours of school and two and a half hours of after-school, right.
I tried several techniques:
(1) dictatorship (“The room must get clean today because I’m the mama”)
(2) logic (“The room has to get cleaned up, so we can do it a fun way or a not-fun way”; “The room has to be clean before you can make a marble run in there, so we should do it as soon as possible instead of putting it off until tomorrow”),
(3) playful teasing (Mookie: “The rule is you always listen to your mom, except if there’s a big sister of 6 1/2 or 5 1/2, and if there’s a 5 1/2 year old you have to listen to your kid” — Mama: “I liked the ‘always listen to your mom’ part”–Mookie: “You never listen to me!” — Mama: “I always listen to you. I just don’t always give you what you want”–entire conversation carried out while wrestling, tickling, and kissing)
(4) offering to do it together
(5) suggesting the Five Minute Room Rescue (this is from The FlyLady, and is what you’d expect: set the timer for five minutes, tidy nonstop ’til the timer rings, then stop)
(6) taking a “before” and “after” photo
(7) making a list.
It’s hard to say which one, or the combination of which ones, was most effective, but the moment she shifted from resistance to cooperation was when I said, “Let’s make a list.” We agreed on a goal, which I wrote at the bottom of the page: “A nice clean room with plenty of room to play!” Then I put, “Fun steps!” at the top (one more technique is Liberal Use of Exclamation Points), and said we should have a little drawing like a flower for each one. M got very into drawing a flower and number. She thought the steps should be (1) “before” photo, (2) tidy, (3) “after” photo, (4) make marble run; she added (5) her signature, and an “S” for “special”; and she firmly declined doing the Five Minute Room Rescue for the tidying. So she took this photo, which captures about half the mess zone, and we set out to clean up.
I set down two rules: we both had to keep at it, or I’d stop helping; and we had to actually put things away instead of just piling them all on top of the toy chest. Mookie also remembered a clean-up method she likes a lot: she tosses me a stuffie and we say “alley oop” as I dunk it into the hammock they live in. Alley-oop doesn’t work for most other items, but it seemed to power her through the rest–that, and, I suspect, the daily habit that Joy got her into that removed some of the dread of cleanup. (She had plenty of cleanup experience at preschool, but honestly, I think she did as much shirking there as cleaning. She’s a master of hanging around the edges, looking like she’s part of the effort but not actually putting anything away. But she got into it with minimal nudging today.)
Then she said I should take the “after” photo.
She was very impressed with the difference when she looked at the photos. We may use this technique again.