Hashem has blessed the Cap’n and me with four adorable, delightful children. But as most parents know, kids don’t come with a “cleaning chip” installed in their brains.
So one of the great challenges of my life in recent years has been to find the right combination of teaching, reminding, reprimanding, and doling out of unpleasant consequences (you know, punishment) for failure to pick up one’s own possessions and put them away.
I have some compassion for the Crunch girls, because they don’t have large amounts of their own space in which to dump their clutter. The three of them share a room, and since Israeli closets rarely include those most excellent junk depositories known as “drawers,” they are forced to tuck them between socks and pajamas, or dump them next to their beds. On a trip to IKEA last year, I picked up a set of six drawers to allow the girls to store personal items, giving them two drawers each. But for pack-rats, that’s just not enough. (Of course, I have the same system for their father in the form of his old foot locker, in which to store memorabilia from years past. Once the locker is full, he has to part with things to make room for more.)
I devised weekly charts for each child with a grid reflecting the chores I expect each child to do (tailored to the child based on age) and a space to put a small sticker when the chore is done. One of these chores is picking up one’s things, and keeping their room and playroom tidy. A small amount of mess is permitted in the playroom, since they will occasionally come back to a game. But the bedroom has to be kept tidy because it’s a much smaller shared space and tidiness is a form of consideration, something the Cap’n and I think is important to teach, especially in the context of family life.
I had hoped that the presence of this chore on the chart would serve as a motivator for them. (The more stickers they have at the end of a week, the greater a percentage of their total possible allowance they receive. A pitiful week gets them a half-allowance disbursement; a good week, with about 80% of their stickers, gets them their full allowance.) Alas, it has not proved to be so. My children are not all good readers (at least in English) so either reviewing the contents of the chart for them would be in order. I could also put it in Hebrew, which the eldest two read well.
But even were I to do those things, my expectations of their tidiness performance are limited. This is why I reached back into my employment past to the year I worked with kids in residential treatment and some of the practices we employed there. I worked in a “cottage” in what was officially a mental health facility with girls ages 8-14. With a dozen or so girls in the cottage, neatness was understandably an issue. The children’s daily routines allowed for regular tidying times, but for items left unclaimed at the conclusion of such times, there was “confo box.” This was a cardboard box in which stray clothing items, toys, books, or other tchotchkes were put to be redeemed (for a small ransom) at the end of the week. In the past week I have adopted a cardboard box for the Crunch family’s confo box. Roller blading pads and wrist guards left out in the garden for the birds to poop on were rescued and put in the box. A bag of crafting supplies that Beans was instructed on numerous occasions to put away were added. And I’m not above putting errant pairs of shoes or discarded dirty socks in there. All items are redeemed on a mandatory basis for a small fee (half-shekel for large items like the pads, 10 agurot for smaller items). The fee goes directly in the tzedaka box.
When I was looking for graduate programs in psychology almost half a lifetime ago, I met with a professor at the University of Washington. She told me her area of interest was motivation. I nearly laughed out loud. “M&M-ing!” I thought, remembering Psych 101. How could someone possibly spend all her professional time and energy doing that?
But as every parent knows, getting kids to do their homework, eat their vegetables, and clean their rooms is ALL about motivation.
Now I know.