It is no secret that children are not great fans of tidying up; it cuts into their all-important and hectic playdate schedules. So much to play, so little time to tidy. Yet teaching your littles to help out around the house needn't be like pulling teeth, nor do you need to resort to threats and bribes (been there, done that, bought the t-shirt).
Sick of tantrums and tears from children asked to tidy, I decided to turn tidying, cleaning and decluttering into exactly what a child wants: even more play time.
The Tidying Up Game starts with a craft, has a middle of tidying, dancing and singing and ends with rewards. So, how to play at tidying up (while actually getting things done)?
You are going to need some lollipop sticks (popsicle sticks for the non-Brits!) and a clean, empty jar. Ideally colourful, you can pick them up in a local craft store, online or in large supermarkets. I use coloured sticks so that I can colour code them: green for tidying, blue for decluttering, yellow for cleaning, orange for cooking and red for special chores.
Each stick will have a chore written on it by you. I recommend asking for your children's ideas, getting them included in this part of the process will give them a greater sense of investment.
Once your chores are written on the sticks, it is time for your kids to decorate them the storage jar. Feathers, paint, glitter, stickers - the tackier, the better!
When it is time to use your Tidy Up Sticks for the first time, keep your energy high and enthusiastic. If you seem excited, your kids are going to be much more keen to "play." Decide what kind of help you want and instruct them to pick a stick. So, if you want help making dinner they'll pick an orange stick. It might say "set the table for dinner" or "prepare a salad." Remember to keep chores age and ability appropriate - you may want to have different sticks for your different children.
Once they've got their Tidy Up Stick assignment, crank up the music - upbeat favourites - and encourage movement. Studies have shown that movement can actually help children focus on a task, so if you want them to do a good job of tidying their toys, dancing as they go is a good way to do it.
It is up to your kiddo to decide when they have finished the task. To show that they consider themselves done, they pop their Tidy Up Stick in a "finished" jar. You can then check and see how well they've done. If the job hasn't been finished or done well enough, point out what still needs doing in a calm, friendly manner and give them the stick back. No criticism! But, warn them that failing to pass this 'round' of the Tidy Up Sticks game will mean receiving one penalty: an extra stick. This should be enough to motivate them to get their chore done adequately.
Remember, your children will be very unlikely to have the same standards as you. You're not going to get perfection here, this is about teaching your children to help graciously and learn to be independent, compassionate and confident adults. Picking on small mistakes or criticising their genuine effort won't help achieve those goals.
When you are satisfied that your child has done a good job, give them a reward. This is not intended to be something physical (at least not every time). I typically give a sticker for each job well done. 10 stickers means a special treat, like their favourite food for dinner, choosing a movie for family movie night or one-on-one time with mum or dad. This isn't about teaching our children that they get toys or sweets if they work for it, but rather about teaching children to feel proud of their achievements and showing them just how happy their efforts have made you. Still, there's nothing wrong with a cupcake reward every once in a while!
Happy playing! Let me know if you try out the game and how it works for you. I would love to see your sticks as well!