When a child makes a mess while eating a meal at the table, I can appreciate that it may be accidental. After all, small children are still learning how to behave, how to eat properly, and how to pay attention. What they need to get there are clear instructions on what is expected, and demonstrations on how to execute the instructions.
When a child makes a mess while eating a meal at the table, and it is due to fooling around, our expectations are as follows:
- Child must stop the fooling around.
- When the meal is complete, the child must clean up the mess.
There appears to be enough mess made accidentally when not fooling around that extra mess due to fooling around will become their responsibility effective now. Why should I not hold them accountable?
Why not indeed.
Our 5 year old is a mess-prone kid. Part of it is that he is quite clumsy, and part of it is because we have been too slack with enforcing the expectations at the table. When he starts fooling around, mostly to entertain his toddler sister, the mess on the table, on his clothes, on and underneath his chair is a great source of irritation for me.
So how do I enforce his accountability?
Well, that is a work-in-progress. It requires a tremendous amount of restraint on my part. Restraint in terms of keeping myself from turning into a nag, and from getting angry enough to simply clean up the mess myself.
[Note to self: It is pointless to repeat a request, command or rule. How many times is enough? Stop repeating yourself.]
As mentioned above, the first step is to make the child stop the fooling around. I don’t know any magic formula on how to accomplish this, other than counting on the second step, where I insist on the child cleaning up the mess himself.
When this happens, it often sounds something like this:
Me: Please take your plates and bring them to the kitchen. Then come back with the little broom and sweep up the crumbs under your chair.
Ben: But I don’t like cleaning!
Me: You should have thought of that when you made the mess while fooling around.
Ben: I’m not going to clean it.
Me: You will be served your next meal after you clean up under your chair.
Ben: I DON’T LIKE CLEANING!
Me: Neither do I! Why should I clean up the mess you make when you fool around? You know what I expect of you.
I think he got the message. He didn’t test me for long, and must have felt that I was serious. The trick for me however is to stay consistent with this expectation.
For the record, both kids, even the 2 year old, have to pick up clothes, towels and shoes they leave lying around the house, and they have to help put their toys away prior to night time.
Cleaning up and tidying is not a foreign concept to them.
I don’t expect things to get easier as they get older, so why not establish some of these habits now? THAT is my objective, anyway.