How to Stop Nagging Your Kids to Pick Up (And Hating Your Own Voice!)

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My sister in-law uses her iPhone to take videos of her kids when they’re out of control. She plays the video back for them so they can see for themselves why it’s not acceptable behavior. I think it’s pretty brilliant.

She told us this strategy at a family get-together one evening. Later that same night, my husband and his brother (both of whom are fiercely competitive) were having a debate over something, pushing each other’s buttons as usual. Much to my husband’s dismay, we decided to take a video of him during the argument to see how his behavior looked on replay. We thought we’d finally show those guys how ridiculous their competitive, button-pushing antics were for a couple of grown men.

Well, my husband got the last laugh. As it turned out, when we watched the video back, we all had to admit he appeared under control and collected in his arguments.

If only we’d all be so lucky.

I’m pretty sure that my parenting would not always hold up to the iPhone video replay test. For as much as I try to get my to stop whining, I know I’m sometimes guilty of the same behavior when it comes to getting them to do things they don’t want to do. When my son says, “Why aren’t you talking to me in your nice voice?” I know I’m losing it.

In my experience, when you feel yourself about to lose it, it’s helpful to take a step back, lighten up, and try to see the humor of the situation (because kids are hilarious). This strategy of handling frustrating moments is partially what motivated me to write a post about playful ways to get your kids to clean.

But what if you could eliminate the need for nagging at all? Better yet, what if you didn’t even have to ask your kids to pick up after themselves? And get a tidy house in the process?

 Tip: Tired of nagging your kids to pick up after themselves? Try the Saturday Box method!

I know, this sounds like one of those parenting pipe dreams. It’s right up there with, “What if my kids stopped waking me up during the night?”, “What if we could go on a date again?” and “What if the laundry would do itself?”

I recently interviewed a mom of six, named Tina from Idaho, however, who discovered this bit of parenting brilliance that’s too good not to share. And I’m dying to inflict it on… er, try it on my own kids. It’s called the “Saturday Box,” and it’s meant for school-aged children, or at least kids who know the days of the week.

How the Saturday Box Works

1. Find a container of some sort (Tina’s family used a laundry basket) and place it out of the way in a room that gets trashed the most with kids’ personal belongings (toys, school work, outerwear, shoes, etc.).

2. Institute these rules: any personal item that’s left in the room by any person (unless he or she is leaving for a bathroom or snack break) may be put in the “Saturday box” by any other person. Once an item enters the Saturday box, it can’t be touched until Saturday, at which point the owner can claim it.

3. Watch the problem of a messy house magically fix itself.

When I heard about this from Tina, I was in awe of the genius behind this idea. “The difference it made in all of our behavior was astounding,” Tina says. “I no longer said, ‘Take care of your this, put your that away.’ No more reminders, no more threats, no more frustration, and no more anger at the disaster that a bunch of kids can create between getting home from school and bedtime. My behavior and attitude improved.”

Or in other words, her parenting became iPhone video-replay-worthy. And she got a clean house!

What made it work so well for her family? Well, she described a few keys to success, and some of these require a bit of tough love…

 

Key #1: Nothing is off limits.

Not even homework or textbooks. In Tina’s family, each child experienced losing something important at some time or another, but usually only once. “They all cared about their grades,” Tina said. “I felt pretty awful not giving in on that, but was glad in the end that I didn’t. Most of the book/homework issues were creatively solved; a call to a classmate, a study buddy for a week, or asking the teacher to copy a few pages. I did get a call from a horrified teacher once.”

(MORE: The Case for Lazier Parenting)

I personally love the brilliance of instilling responsibility this way and respect the effort it must have taken not to cave in!

 

Key #2: Everyone’s stuff is fair game

Even yours. Tina admits to falling “victim” to the Saturday box more than once in the first few weeks of instituting the rules. “I lost books, shoes, a coat, and a few other less awful things,” she says. “My husband lost his keys and work shoes. Like the kids, we creatively solved his key problem. I loaned him my copy of his truck key and he made sure a co-worker would be at his shop to open up when he got there.”

Having the parents play by the same rules as the kids helped the kids buy into the system, and everyone learned valuable problem-solving skills.

 

Key #3: Stay firm

If you don’t have the fortitude to stay firm when your own things end up the box or when really important things find their way there, Tina says don’t even try this approach. It won’t work if you make exceptions.

 

Final Results

The first month Tina’s family tried the Saturday box, the box was perpetually full. By the end of the second month, there were only a few things in the box each week. A few months later, weeks would go by with nothing in the box at all, and it stayed that way for years. Part of what helped was the kids policing each other—in the best way possible.

“They would help each other to remember to pick their stuff up before moving on,” says Tina. “They’d also rescue other kids stuff by picking it up and putting it away. And yes, they would also drop stuff in the Saturday Box that others left lying about. The whole thing worked out pretty beautifully.”

Share your thoughts: So what do you think? Is this strategy horrifying, as one teacher thought, or brilliant?

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