Feeling overwhelmed?

How many times do we end up nagging or ‘reminding’ our children to clear up after themselves? Then, when the house is finally quiet, we potter around tidying everything up, only to find ourselves doing the same thing the following day. it just feels like a slave to your family.

Do you find yourself saying ‘What am I… your slave?’ or ‘What did your last slave die of?’ It is all in good humour. However, it helps to look at what we are doing for our children and whether there is a way to help them become more responsible.

What behaviour would you expect from a servant?

I would like you just to think for a moment. If you had a servant, would you expect your servant to suddenly start giving you instructions and telling you what to do? If they did it might annoy you, and you would probably wonder what had got into them. You may challenge them or just ignore them until everything settles back down.

Well, that is what our children think when we start telling them what to do. When there is a clear expectation that we will clear up, and clean, and cook, and give them lifts to wherever they want to go. Then all of a sudden we start giving them orders. They are bemused and slightly concerned that we do not seem to understand the pecking order. They may do a bit of clearing up to ‘keep the peace’ and then things settle down again –and we carry on doing what we have always done.

We train our children to expect us to do everything – because we always do it!

Please don’t think for a moment that I am being critical of your child. Indeed the sad thing is that we unconsciously set ourselves up for being a servant. We do everything for our children. We put them first. Our days are devoted to making their lives easier and happier. Plus, if our child has special needs or we are separated we feel even more that we should do things for them ‘after all the difficulties they have been through’.

I would like you to consider the statement:
‘Never do anything for your child that they can do for themselves’

Can your child:

  • Dust or put a vacuum cleaner around a room?
  • Clean a car or help clear leaves off the lawn?
  • Help lay a table, wash up or pack a dishwasher?
  • Help to cook a simple meal?
  • Make their bed or make their lunch?

How to re-train the children

In our family, my children were magically able to make their own lunches on the day they started school. At the age of four! They have been making their own lunches ever since.

The children have always been good at coming down to set the table for breakfast or tea, and we all clear up afterwards until the kitchen is clear.

When we got a new puppy, my children agreed that they would all help exercise the dog. We set things up so that every morning they take turns exercising the dog before they go to school. And they still do this even though we have had the dog for eleven years!

However, I am going to say that my children are not good at clearing up after themselves. Are they lazy? Incompetent? Or inconsiderate?
No. They are pretty good kids. But I have let them get into bad habits.

Changing Children’s bad habits

If I want things to change in my household I am going to need to do a few things first.

  1. I need to tell them how all the mess is making me feel, and how frustrating I find it walking into a messy room.
  2. I need to tell them that from Monday there is going to be a new rule. That I expect them to keep the hallway clear and leave the downstairs clear of any of their things when they go up to bed.
  3. I need to ‘set them up’ to remember the new rule, by frequently asking them.
    ‘On Monday, what is the new rule going to be about tidying up?
    What will that mean you need to do?
    Where will you put your things when you come in the door?
    What will you do before you go up the stairs to bed?’
    I will need to have this conversation frequently, and be sure to go through the questions in detail on Sunday evening, and when I see them first on Monday morning.
  4. I will try to notice every time they do clear up after themselves and mention it. ‘I noticed you hung your coat up when you came in – you are trying to keep our house tidy.’ ‘I noticed you tidied all of your things yesterday, before you went to bed. Thank you for being so considerate’. However, I will need to keep this up, as I tend to notice when they don’t do things and not when they do.
  5. I need to think of something that they would like as a reward. They would probably like a movie night with popcorn. Which we could use if they manage to keep the house tidy for a week.
  6. I will also need to think of some natural consequences if they don’t clear away their things. We may need to forgo the movie night. Or they may cook a simple meal one night due to compensate for the time I spent tidying up.
  7. Lastly, I need to be consistent (my biggest failing!). I’ll need to keep it up, week after week until my children put things away as they come in. To clear up after themselves and to check the downstairs rooms for anything that belongs to them before they make their way up to bed.

Why Child independence is so important

In your household, there may be a different issue that is pushing your buttons. But following a few simple steps can help new rules become established. So, your children to do more for themselves. After all part of our role as parents is to help our children become pleasant people to live with so, they can become responsible adults who can take care of themselves. We will be doing the world a favour by training them in good habits.

Good luck with tackling your ‘hot spots’


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child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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