The downside of having two very intelligent and highly verbal children is that they can and will argue you into a corner EVERY TIME. Last week Ian and I decided that it was high time we had a (somewhat) tidy house again.
Brio Peak and Brio Valley had been slowly but surely taking over the first floor. Brio Peak was very impressive, but since hitting its…uh…pinnacle around January/February, it had gone…uh…downhill, so to speak. <—- see what I did there? While it was still a spectacular installation when viewed as a whole, there were a lot of broken bits (either through accident or the frequent “bad storms” that seem to affect the geographic area of the living room). As a result, most of the living room, entranceway, and playroom was littered with pieces of wooden track, Lego, blocks, and Playmobil people and accessories.
Ben and I had had many discussions in which I had said that I was fine with Brio Valley staying out as long as the mess was kept under control – that meant that any parts that were not recognizable as built tracks had to be tidied away into boxes or cubbies – and he agreed.
When it comes to tidying up though, I have to admit I’m not a great one for follow-through – it is often easier to just do it myself than to make Ben and Molly do it. Unfortunately for all of us, this means that when I do lay down the law and try to make them do it, it’s all that much harder – and, with the aforementioned problem of intelligent and verbal children, it becomes a nightmare of:
“But I still need to play with that!!”
“But Molly was supposed to do that part!!”
“But Ben’s not helping!!”
“But Molly’s just playing!!”
“But I don’t LIKE cleaning up!!”
“I WILL help in a MINUTE”
“I DID put the scissors away – I put them away on the table so I know where they are when I need them!”
“I DID put the toys in the playroom like you said!!”
“But you NEVER SAID to put them in their CUBBY!”
“But BEN’S NOT DOING IT!!”
“But MOLLY’S NOT DOING IT!!”
“BUT I WANT TO KEEP PLAYING WITH THAT!!”
“BUT THAT IS WHERE IT BELONGS BECAUSE IT’S WHERE I WANT IT TO BELONG!!”
And so on UNTIL MOMMY’S HEAD FREAKING EXPLODES!!!
…which it did, and I had what 1-2-3 Magic calls a parental temper tantrum. I told Ben and Molly to sit down against the wall and not do anything while I finished cleaning up.
And then, because I was on a roll, I cleaned up EVERYTHING. Including Brio Valley and Brio Peak. With whispering golf sportscasters in the background:
“Ben! Mommy’s cleaning up Brio Valley!” “I know – my track-building masterpiece!” “But what are we going to do without Brio Valley?” “I don’t know!” “Is she putting it all away?” “I don’t know. I hope not!”
I did calm down, and I give myself a little pat on the back because I DIDN’T yell through this whole process, which I feel was impressive given the amount of yelling and screaming that was being directed AT me by Ben and Molly.
I think the fact that I didn’t yell helped my case quite a lot – *I* knew that it started out as a mommy tantrum, but Ben and Molly didn’t – they just saw the resulting action of me dismantling Brio Peak, and it got the message across that this was A. Big. Deal.
Ian gave them dinner, and they ate quietly and well, without as much complaining as often happens at the dinner table, and he took them up to get ready for bed while I finished the tidy and moved all the toys back to the playroom.
When I finished I joined them upstairs and then we had The Talk.
I said, “Remember when I first asked you to help tidy up and I said if you couldn’t help keep the living room tidy, you wouldn’t be allowed to play in the living room anymore? Well, you wouldn’t help tidy up, even when I gave you small jobs to do like putting away one marker and a pair of scissors, so now you can’t play in the living room.”
Ben, subdued, asked, “But can I ever have Brio Peak back?”
“Yes. We will start out by having toys only in the playroom, and if you show me that you can put them away when you’re finished playing with them, we can try having Brio Peak again. Molly, that goes for you too. What do you do at school when you’re finished with a job?”
“Put it away.”
“And what happens if you don’t put it away?”
“Can’t do that job anymore.”
“Now the same goes at home, for both of you.”
Ian: “If you finish playing with something and you don’t put it away, mommy or I will ask you to put it away. If you don’t put it away when we ask you, you will sit out AND that toy will go away for a week.”
Molly: *gasp* “A whole week??”
Ben: “What about if I want to play with something again later, like a train track?”
Me: “If it is built, and you ask permission, it can stay out. But pieces of track or blocks that aren’t built have to go away.”
Ben: “How will I know if it has to go away?”
Ian: “You tidy up what you think needs to go away, then ask us if that’s okay, and we’ll either say yes or tell you what else has to go away.”
Me: “We will try this for a little while, and if it goes well, you can build Brio Peak again – BUT it has to be kept tidy, so when you build it, you can bring your track drawers into the living room, and take the track pieces that you’re using out, and the ones that you aren’t using yet stay in the drawer, not all over the floor. Got it?”
Ben and Molly: “Got it.”
So we’ll see how it all goes. I know that for Ian and me it will be an effort to enforce the new rules rather than let it slide and pick things up themselves. I just went into the playroom and stopped myself as I bent down to pick up a train on the floor – when Ben gets home from daycamp, I’ll start by asking him to put it away and we’ll go from there.
I am a little frustrated with myself that it started as a mommy tantrum, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Ian and I are both comfortable with my decision to dismantle Brio Peak and would have made the same decision had we taken the time to discuss it calmly and weigh the options – it seems like that actual ACTION was necessary to derail (so to speak) Ben and Molly’s knee-jerk objections to tidying up and stun them into silence long enough to actually reflect on the situation.
And I’m proud of myself for not screaming, which used to be MY knee-jerk (and not nearly as effective or productive) reaction to achieve that same stunned silence. Actions speak louder than words, even really, really loud words.
How do you get your kids to tidy up? What are your rules about toys? Have you had a parental temper tantrum? How did you come back from it?