Why You Should STOP Saying CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM to Your Preschooler
Let’s talk about behavior and why we want our children to ‘behave’. Recent concerns on behavior are mostly around children being ‘stubborn’ by always refusing to follow given tasks, acting-out, tantrums and the list goes on.
When you’re just about to tell your child to do something, I urge you to stop, reflect and ask yourself, ‘is my child developmentally capable of completing this task? Do they understand what it is I’m asking for exactly? Are we asking our children to over-achieve their developmental age? We ask our 2-4 year olds to clean up their room, brush their teeth and to put on their clothes, so that we can teach them how to be ‘responsible’ and ‘independent.’ Yet, usually, these requests are always replied with a firm, ‘No!.’ Why is that?
Sometimes what we ask can be much bigger that what they can achieve. ‘Clean up your room’ can seem like a simple task, but for a small 3 year old it requires a lot of concentration, attention and the ability to complete several small tasks at once. Maybe he’s just developmentally not ready yet to achieve that.
So let’s look at the bigger picture. What are we, as mothers, achieving by asking our children to over-achieve? Initially, once they see the task is too hard their immediate answer is ‘no.’ This teaches them to give up before trying. Asking them to over-achieve also lowers their confidence level by thinking they can never do anything ‘right’. By insisting on a task they do not want to do, brushing their teeth for example, you are teaching them that being responsible is an unwilling obligation rather than a trait they should positively look forward to.
‘So I should never ask of my kids to do something they don’t want to’? No. Instead try to break up the task into smaller and more specific tasks to create an achievable goal. For ex. ‘pick up your legos and then the play-dough’ rather than an overwhelmingly big task such as ‘clean your room’. Or ‘Ok so your homework is to finish this page of math problems, how about we start with 5 problems first’ rather than simply ‘finish your math homework.’
How To Teach Your Child Responsibility
Try to turn the tables around for a second; think of your child’s needs before asking them to do a task. Also, think about what are you trying to achieve by asking this. You want to teach responsibility?
1. Plant a seed together and explain the responsibility of taking care of it by involving them in the process. This already increases the chances of your child to willing choose to be responsible.
2. Ask them to help you out while cooking (in a safe environment of course). Let them mix the batter, pour in the water, sprinkle the seasoning etc.
3. Delegate simple house and age-appropriate chores such as washing the vegetables, setting the table or juicing oranges. This allows them to ‘help’ while fulfilling their need of belonging and significance when you involve them with you.
4. Encourage the responsibility of self-care by leaving them to brush their teeth on their own, feed themselves, dress themselves (if they can). If not then let them choose from two options what they would like to wear, pack their snack bags alone and my all-time favorite delegation: ask them to remember a few items on your way to grocery shopping together and emphasis it is their responsibility to find them and add them to the cart.
The characteristics of self-reliance, independence and responsibility are life-long. They cultivate a growth mindset that allows kids to embrace rather than shy away from future challenges they will face. Let’s stop asking our children to over-achieve, and instead help break down instructions into smaller, specific and achievable tasks while focusing on encouraging their efforts instead.
Amina is a child psychologist, parent educator and coach. She is also currently a doctoral researcher in Education at the University of Bath, UK. After completing her masters in child & adolescent psychology, Amina worked with a variety of children ranging from behavioral issues to developmental disorders. Her certifications in positive discipline and parent coaching allow her to form the bridge between parent education and child therapy as she provides tools and proven strategies to empower parents when raising their children. Amina’s goal is to provide her clients with positive parenting tools to create a strong child-parent relationship based on the foundations of love, trust and growth.