“I’m making a mess, making a mess, making a MESS!”, screams my 3 year old as he trashes his playroom like a rockstar in a four star hotel after one too many drinks. Carefully organized toy bins toppled, letter magnets scattered everywhere, and every single puzzle piece on the floor- he looks up at me with what can only be described as an impish grin. I return his grin with a smug one of my own and say, “You have 15 minutes to clean up.”
In the past I would have begun cleaning up for him, but not this time. No, this is my chance to employ the “toy time out“ as it was so called by several other moms who recommended the strategy to encourage their little ones to clean up after themselves. The idea is simple, if a toy is left on the ground at the end of the day it “goes to time out”.
So, my response to Maxwell’s who’s-gonna-make-me-clean-up face was, “you can keep everything that you put in its place, but if it’s still on the floor when we go to bathtime in 14 minutes it will go away for one week.” He didn’t seem sufficiently concerned by this because his next move was to dump a box of blocks over. Over the next 13 minutes I proceeded to explain very clearly what my expectations were and what the consequences would be if they were not met. He never asked for help, because if he had I would have helped a little at least. I would never enforce such an apocalyptic consequence without being extremely clear and giving plenty of warning. In the end, he cleaned up exactly 3 balls and half of a puzzle. He went up to bath and bedtime with little to no concern for the future of his toys, and I spent well over 30 minutes putting nearly all of his toys in time out after everyone was asleep. Worth-every-minute.
The next morning he was greeted by an empty playroom and indignantly said, “hey, you took all of my toys.” Not known for being a particularly reasonable creature, I was rather surprised when Maxwell then began a very reasonable dialog about when he would be getting them back. How long is a week? What date will it be? Could I show him on the homeschool calendar? He then assured me that he would clean up his toys in the future. Talk is cheap folks-especially the talk of an onery 3 year old boy, but I’ll take what I can get.
I’m pretty sure there’ll be several tantrums over the next few days as he realizes which favorite toys are gone and is reminded that it is his actions that sent them to time out. Happily, I’m also certain that cleanup will be done in record time for at least the next 7 days.