We expect that as our kids grow older they will learn to clean up after themselves. So, how do I get my child to clean up? I enforce immaculate inculcation. The technique sounds more obscure than it actually is in practice. You’re probably using it already and don’t even know it.
Although I have only one son, his curiosity, knack for exploring, and love for creating and building things make me feel like I have at least four. It’s impossible to have a perfectly clean house when there’s a child. But what age is it reasonable to expect our children to start cleaning up after themselves? I enforce getting my child to clean up using the immaculate inculcation technique because with it there’s always a rhythm and technique to the beginning and end of every day. Whether we are aware of it or not we are teaching immaculate habits to our children when we force them to wash their hands before dinner, or to make their beds every day. For instance there’s certain places you return your children’s toys, if only because they won’t fit any other way. And those first exciting moments every morning begin with your children ceremoniously ripping through their play area, pulling toys from shelves and commencing play in a way that’s not very different from the day before.
Just like any other parent, my energy dwindles as the day approaches its end. Why is it that at cocktail hour it seems the mess in the house is magnified and it becomes more bothersome? I was never a nagger, and I try my best not to be one, but when it comes to this moment I won’t ask my kid more than once to clean up.
Immaculate inculcation is a way to indoctrinate your children into following these rhythms when they begin and end their play, that play must always begin with removing toys from shelves and end with toys fitting back where they started the day. The floor must be littered to begin and cleared to end. If you’re a believer in cycles, then you’re already a believer in the theory of immaculate inculcation. Using the method I know longer have to ask my self how do I get my child to clean up?
Some of my friends who are more anal retentive than me have it even worse. One especially obsessive-compulsive one has the inability to focus on another task when a particular spot in the house is cluttered or messy. Usually, she ends up picking up toys and cleaning up herself instead of having the kids do it.
She and I don’t talk anymore, because after she asked me how do I get my child to clean up the clutter, I told her she’s got to brainwash her child into not thinking there’s another way to end the day. The child must be forced to return the toys to the shelf or she’ll risk serious consequences. “Spank the child if you have to,” I told her. “You must preach the cardinal rule of return for toys, and a return of the floor’s path to make sure everything is ready for the big event that will be tomorrow’s unveiling of the toys.” It was too harsh a rule for my friend to follow, I suppose. Consistency somehow was lost to her, but then that’s probably why my friend is miserable.
I must admit that while I do have an ability to cook in a dirty kitchen and dress in a messy bedroom, I won’t allow it for my child’s play space. Call me a hypocrite, but my immaculate inculcation has solved the problem for that age old question – How do I get my child to clean up?
My determination to teach my son about responsibility and independence feeds out of this simple model. I allow my son to play as much as he can and the only condition is that he has to clean up his mess afterwards. Often, I play with my kids. Those times, the house can get crazy messy. Paints, shaved crayons, glue, paper cut-outs, and even mud. I realize that I could be the biggest breaker of the rule of cleaning up when cocktail hour comes and I want to drop everything, but I refuse to expose him to any inconsistency when cleaning up. We make mud pies, dry leaves barbecues, shoe box houses, and finger painted Jackson Pollock murals. But the mess is always gone at the end of each day. That way, we get to explode the whole place again tomorrow. But it’s not so much of a question for my son, it’s a fundamental commandment: Thou shall clean up afterward!