Take Away

Cleaning up toys has long been a battle in our household. I have a vivid memory of a one-year-old Ellie throwing the most massive tantrum she ever had over not wanting to pick up her things. Crying and flopped down in the hallway, she relentlessly held on to her conviction, whether or not it was valid. Now I have volunteered in enough K-6 Sunday school classes to have a healthy dose of distaste for when kids don't pick up after themselves. "That's not my mess," is the most common excuse for laziness -- and so I fervently want to instill a sense of personal responsibility in my own kids, which is easier said than done.

As they have aged, it certainly hasn't got better. We have tried taking away toys and making them earn them back with chores, to little avail. Not letting them watch TV until everything is cleaned has worked most recently, though I can see this fading. Today there was a mess of puzzles that have been on the ground for three days, and I was fed up. (Sometimes our lives are a bit busy, and we can't make sure the house is clean every night before bed, though that is our ideal.)

"Waverly made that mess," Ellie told me, to my chagrin.

"I don't care, you played with them too so clean them up or I am giving them away." Threatening to toss toys works pretty well as Ellie suddenly freaks out and loves dearly any item headed for the trash can. (I can't say I enjoy this toddler materialism in her, but we will fight one battle at a time...) She cleaned a little, then piddled about. I gave one more warning (I give too many warnings). She did the same.

"Okay, that's it. Puzzle is gone," I said as I proceeded to silently put all the pieces in a bin and take them away. Tears and begging ensued, but I had had enough. The problem with instances like this is that you always doubt yourself as a parent. Am I scarring my child? Will she even remember she has a puzzle tomorrow? Is this helping? Thoughts like this usually soften my heart and I give one more chance, but not today. In minutes the puzzle was gone and Ellie was on the floor in the hallway crying.

I let her work through it for a couple minutes before I hugged her and ensured that it is indeed very sad to lose toys (a Love and Logic thing). We talked a bit and she calmed down. And then, after it was all over, something changed in her. She was kinder, cared more, cleaned well and led Waverly in doing the same. She knew I was finally serious about getting rid of her precious toys, and the threat fulfilled actually worked! Also, the struggle we went through together seemed to bond us, like two kids who get in a fight at school and are best friends after it's all over.

I wanted to share this with you, parents (or not), so that if you are afraid of harming your children with some discipline -- don't be. That feels a little silly writing it out, as if I am a total pushover parent (I hope not). But I want to encourage anyone else who goes through internal doubt that your harsh reactions can reap benefits beyond the trials. Follow your instincts and know that it is your job to do so, motivated by love, resulting in a child that becomes a productive member of society...and picks up her toys.