Getting kids to pick up their toys

A common frustration among parents of young children is getting them to pick up their toys. Parents often complain that their children forget to pick up the toys even after many reminders.

One mom explained how she solved this problem. Her 3-year-old son loved playing with his blocks. She asked him several times to pick up the blocks but instead he continued playing with them and eventually walked away. Although this mom felt angry, she simply said to her son, “That’s ok, I’ll pick them up.” She then picked up the blocks and put them away where her son could not get them.

She explained to her son that since she had to pick up the blocks, they would be put away for a week. This news greatly upset him. However, from that day on she found all she had to say was “That’s ok, I’ll pick them up.” and her son would quickly pick up his toys!

What teens are really doing

What parents think their teens are doing and what their teens are actually doing are often two different things. Parents can learn a lot about these common misperceptions in Stephen Wallace's book Reality Gap: Alcohol, Drugs, and Sex--What Parents Don't Know and Teens Aren't Telling.

Wallace, CEO of Students Against Destructive Decisions, documents what's been learned about teen behavior through the indepth "Teens Today" study conducted from 2000 - 2006. This study reports data like:

  • average age for alcohol initiation is 13

  • by 12th grade, more than 75% of teens are drinking

  • 35% of teens report using drugs

  • 52% of high school students report having had sexual intercourse

The book provides wonderful advice for parents in handling and discussing these critical topics with their teens.

Stress of parenting on relationships

Probably most couples are unprepared for just how much extra work having children will entail. I remember thinking that nobody really warned us about how precious little personal time we would have after our first child was born (and before she was born I had not considered taking a shower my personal time!).

With all the extra work children require, it’s easy to see how both parents can feel like they are giving more than their share and start feeling angry with their spouse for not doing more. When reading the article “Mad at Dad”, I was reminded of how deep and corrosive these feelings of anger and resentment can be. According to this article, “46% of moms get irate with their husbands once a week or more. Those with kids younger than 1 are even more likely to be mad that often (54 percent).”

When our children were in pre-school, we heard of so many parents of young children getting a divorce. Having children certainly puts a stress on marriages. Couples need excellent communication skills to address difficult topics like differences in parenting approaches or who does what chores. Coming to agreement on things like dividing up the chores may be difficult but is also essential for marriages to remain strong.

What new life skills will your kids learn this summer?

We have until our children are about 18 years old to teach them all the basic skills they'll need to live on their own. Although it sounds like a lot of time, it goes by amazingly fast. Summertime can provide a little more free time for teaching our kids something new.

Children often enjoy helping out in the kitchen. Learning to plan and make a meal is a fundamental skill. Is your child ready to take responsibility for a family meal or part of a meal? Young children may be able to make a simple breakfast (with your help!) and teenagers can typically handle cooking a dinner.

While it may be easier for you to do the cooking yourself, teaching your kids these skills will eventually pay off. When children help with a meal, they also can begin to appreciate all the steps that are involved:

• Picking out the recipes to make
• Going to the grocery store to buy the ingredients
• Putting the groceries away
• Figuring out what to prepare at what time so that the food is done at about the same time
• Following the recipe and preparing the food
• Setting the table
• Serving the food

There is a tricky balance for parents between providing help and accidentally taking over what children are really capable of doing themselves. One way to allow your children more control is to tell them you are happy to help if they request your help with something. Then stay out of the way until they ask for your help (but do stay close by in case of an emergency like the oven fire we experienced when our daughter was making a very cheesy pizza!).

Through chores children learn that they are important contributing members of the family. By the time children are about 4-years-old, they are ready to be responsible for some household chores. While it may take more time to teach them how to do a chore than to simply do it yourself, your effort will pay off when they are able to do it on their own.

Last summer our then 12-year-old son learned to pressure wash the deck. He was happy to take on this new task especially since it involved getting wet and getting paid! My husband taught him how to use the pressure washer including all the safety information. It took many hours to get the job done but he stuck with it and we enjoyed a clean deck!

Although we do not pay our children for their daily chores, we do pay them for certain extra chores. It's a great way for work to get done and for our children to earn money for the special things they would like.

One mom told me she is teaching her 5-year-old twins how to do the laundry. Although she still needs to provide some guidance, she remarked that the boys are so proud they know what buttons to push and how to do a load of laundry! Mastering new household skills builds self-confidence in children and starts building appreciation for what needs to be done to keep the household running.

What will your children learn this summer?

Imitating their parents

Babies come into the world ready to imitate other people. Researchers have found that babies less than one day old will stick out their tongues in response to an adult sticking out his tongue. Babies will also open their mouth wide when an adult does that same behavior.

In the book Scientist in the Crib the authors explain various things researchers have discovered about how babies and toddlers learn. They’ve found young children work much like scientists by learning through experimenting. Anyone with a two or three year old knows plenty of testing is required to learn!

If you are interested in understanding more about how babies and toddlers learn, check out this book:

Good parenting is learned

Becoming a parent causes us to grow in many ways. This video captures some of the challenges of parenting along with some of the joys:

Funny demo of natural consequences

Kids learn by trying things out. Watch as this preschooler tests out what happens when he puts his finger in his baby brother's mouth:

Holding off on advice

Listening to our children while resisting the urge to jump in and solve the problem for them is not easy. However, often our children just want us to hear their concerns. They don’t necessarily want our advice; they just want to be heard.

Recently I overheard a teen complaining about how confusing a school worksheet was because the teacher had put the directions at the bottom of the worksheet instead of the top. Before she had finished speaking her dad interrupted and told her that an “A” student would always read through the entire worksheet first then retype and answer the questions in a separate document.

This interaction probably left the girl feeling chastised and completely unheard. Had the dad instead let her finish speaking and then said something like “Wow, that sounds frustrating.”, she might have felt both supported and understood.

Agreeing on discipline

Disagreements between parents on discipline become quickly apparent when children are 2 or 3 years old and are really testing the limits. If one parent tends to be the disciplinarian while the other is far more permissive, children learn to play one parent against the other. Children may also show a strong preference for being with the parent who sets fewer rules.

Taking a parenting class is a wonderful way for parents to explore options and agree on a common parenting approach. By learning effective ways to deal with parenting challenges and hearing other people’s parenting stories, parents can discuss and decide on the approach they want to take. Wherever you are located, a great way to get on the same parenting page is by taking the Priceless Parenting online parenting class!

Asking only once

Have you ever heard yourself or another parent say to a child “How many times do I need to ask you?” When we ask children repeatedly to do something, we train them to expect multiple requests before they need to take any action.

A better approach is to ask children only once to do something and then take action if it doesn’t happen. For example, suppose you asked your child to pick up the jacket he just tossed on the floor. If your child starts playing with a toy instead of picking up his jacket, one way to guide him is to touch him gently on the shoulders and say “I need you to hang up your jacket now.” This will help get his attention while letting him know that you expect him to do what you’ve asked.

You could also state your expectation saying “Feel free to play with that toy just as soon as your jacket is hung up.” What will you do if your child still doesn’t pick up his jacket? There are many possibilities including taking away the toy until the jacket is picked up. By taking action instead of simply repeating the request, you are teaching your child to respond the first time you ask.

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