How to get your child to put away toys

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If you frequently find yourself stepping on a building block, tripping over a doll, or stumbling over a race car, then you know the challenges of getting younger children to put away their toys. Below are a few strategies to encourage children to clean up after themselves and keep the house tidy.

Make specific and focused requests

Asking your child to put many different things away all at the same time can leave room for children unintentionally to forget at least one of your requests — or intentionally skip a few. Make one specific request at a time, such as "Please put your blocks back in the bin on the shelf." After your child has finished one task, then you can request that your child puts a different toy away.

Make requests in the form of a command, not framed as a question like "Will you please clean up your blocks?" Asking a question leaves room for the child to reply, "No." Also, unless you want this to be a group activity, frame the request for just your child: "Please put your blocks back in the bin on the shelf" instead of "Let’s clean up the blocks."

Give your child time to comply, and repeat yourself only once

Children, especially young children, take more time than adults to process information. Count to five in your head after you make an initial request, to give a child time to process what you said and to comply.

If you don’t see the required action after five seconds, repeat your request in a neutral tone followed by a potential logical consequence. For example, "If you do not put your blocks away in the bin on the shelf, then you will not get to play with the blocks for the rest of the day. You can play with them tomorrow."

Count to five in your head again. If your child still does not do what you asked, say the following in a neutral tone: "Okay, you did not put the blocks away in the bin on the shelf, so you do not get to play with them for the rest of the day. You can play with them tomorrow." You can then put the blocks away and out of reach from the child so that the toys are not in use for the remainder of the day.

Stay calm and choose logical consequences

Two key elements of this approach are to remain as calm as possible and create a logical consequence.

  • Staying calm helps. Understandably, you may be very frustrated. However, it’s best to give as little attention to noncompliance as possible. Attention, even in the form of a negative tone, can make the behavior happen more often.
  • Logical consequences matter. Creating consequences that are for extensive periods of time and do not make sense to the child may spark more frustration and refusals. For example, it would not be logical for the child to lose TV time for a week if the child did not put their blocks away. Instead, limiting access to the toy is a logical consequence.

Praise behaviors you want to see

Shine attention on behaviors you’d like to see more often. Any time your child does put toys away, praise them specifically. "Good job" can confuse: the child will not know exactly what was good — sitting quietly, putting toys away, or something else. Instead, say, "Great job putting the blocks in the bin on the shelf!"

Praise with enthusiasm, and use touch, such as a pat on the back, to strengthen a behavior. If you have a child who has sensory processing difficulties, especially with tactile stimuli like a pat on the back, you can reinforce the behavior with a nonverbal gesture, such as a thumbs up.

Your days of repeating commands until you’re blue in the face and cleaning up after your children do not have to continue. The steps above can give you a breather and help your children learn to pick up after themselves.

Evoking calm: Practicing mindfulness in daily life helps

It’s easy to say you simply don’t have time to be mindful. With so much going on in daily life, who has time to stop and be present? But everyone has at least 10 minutes to spare to practice mindfulness.

The point of these brief, daily reflections is to help you tap into calmness whenever life gets too hairy. Practicing everyday mindfulness can also improve your memory and concentration skills and help you feel less distracted and better able to manage crises like dealing with the pandemic.

There is more than one way to practice mindfulness. Still, any mindfulness technique aims to achieve a state of alert, focused, relaxed consciousness by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without passing judgment on them. This allows the mind to focus on the present moment with an attitude of acceptance.

Three easy mindfulness exercises to try

Here are three simple exercises you can try whenever you need a mental break, emotional lift, or just want to pause and appreciate everything around you. Devote 10 minutes a day to them and see how the experience changes your outlook. It’s time well spent.

Simple meditation

A quick and easy meditation is an excellent place to begin practicing mindfulness.

  • Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  • Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
  • Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas. Embrace and consider each without judgment.
  • If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
  • Take as much time as you like: one minute, or five, or 10 — whatever you’re comfortable with. Experts in mindfulness meditation note that the practice is most helpful if you commit to a regular meditation schedule.

Open awareness

Another approach to mindfulness is “open awareness,” which helps you stay in the present and truly participate in specific moments in life. You can choose any task or moment to practice open awareness, such as eating, taking a walk, showering, cooking a meal, or working in the garden. When you are engaged in these and other similar routine activities, follow these steps.

  • Bring your attention to the sensations in your body, both physical and emotional.
  • Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  • Carry on with the task at hand, slowly and with deliberation.
  • Engage each of your senses, paying close attention to what you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste.
  • Try “single-tasking,” bringing your attention as fully as possible to what you’re doing.
  • Allow any thoughts or emotions that arise to come and go, like clouds passing through the sky.
  • If your mind wanders away from your current task, gently refocus your attention back to the sensation of the moment.

Body awareness

Another way to practice mindfulness is to focus your attention on other thoughts, objects, and sensations. While sitting quietly with your eyes closed, channel your awareness toward each of the following:

  • Sensations: Notice subtle feelings such as an itch or tingling without judgment, and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
  • Sights and sounds: Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
  • Emotions: Allow emotions to be present without judging them. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.”
  • Urges: When you feel a craving or an urge (for instance, to eat excess food or practice an unwanted behavior), acknowledge the desire and understand that it will pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the specific knowledge that it will subside.

Skills children need to succeed in life — and getting youngsters started

All parents want their children to be successful in life — and by successful, we mean not just having a good job and a good income, but also being happy. And all parents wonder how they can make that happen.

According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, it’s less about grades and extracurricular activities, and more about a core set of skills that help children navigate life’s challenges as they grow. These skills all fall under what we call executive function skills that we use for self-regulation. Developing strong executive function skills, and finding ways to strengthen those skills, can help people feel successful and happy in life.

What are five important core skills?

  • Planning: being able to make and carry out concrete goals and plans
  • Focus: the ability to concentrate on what’s important at a given time
  • Self-control: controlling how we respond to not just our emotions but stressful situations
  • Awareness: not just noticing the people and situations around us, but also understanding how we fit in
  • Flexibility: the ability to adapt to changing situations.

While these are skills that children (and adults) can and do learn throughout their lifetimes, there are two time periods that are particularly important: early childhood (ages 3 to 5) and adolescence/early adulthood (ages 13 to 26). During these windows of opportunity, learning and using these skills can help set children up for success. In this post, we’ll talk about that first window of early childhood.

The best way to learn any skill is by practicing — and we are all more likely to want to practice something if it is fun and we feel motivated. Here are some ways that parents can help their children learn and strengthen executive function skills.

Planning

It’s natural for parents and caregivers to do the planning for young children, but there are absolutely ways to get them involved, such as:

  • Planning the day’s activities with them, whether it be a school day or a play day. Talk about all the day’s tasks, including meals, dressing, bathing, and other things; help them see it as part of a whole, and something that they can help manage.
  • Cook or bake something together. Put together the shopping list, go shopping, go over the recipe together, and help them understand all the steps.
  • When getting ready for a holiday or a party, include them in thinking about what everyone would like to do and how to do it.

Focus

The explosion of device use has definitely caused all sorts of problems with focus in both children and adults. There is an instant gratification to screens that makes it hard to put them aside and focus on less stimulating tasks. Now, more than ever, it’s important to:

  • Enforce screen-free time, even if they complain (parents need to abide by this too).
  • Have the materials on hand to make or build things. Find projects that will take an hour or two. Do it with them!
  • Read print books out loud together, including chapter books. Having to picture things themselves rather than seeing it on a screen helps children learn to focus.

Self-control

This is one where being mindful of your own reactions to situations is important. How do you react to anger and frustration? Is road rage a problem for you? Remember that children always pay more attention to what we do than what we say. To help your child learn self-control, you can:

  • Talk about feelings, and about strategies for managing strong emotions — like taking a deep breath, stepping away from the situation, screaming into a pillow, etc.
  • Help them understand how their behavior affects others, and why it’s important to be mindful of that (which also teaches awareness).
  • Debrief after tantrums or upsets. What could everyone have done differently?

Awareness

This one can be fun to teach.

  • Go for walks. Visit places together. Listen and watch. Imagine together what people might be doing or thinking.
  • Join community service activities; show children that anyone can make a difference.
  • Have rituals of checking in as a family, like at dinner. Give people a chance to talk about the best and worst parts of their day, and talk about ways you can work better as a family and treat each other well.

Flexibility

We tend to cater to our children and their needs, making our schedules and plans around them. Some of that is pure parenting survival. But ultimately, it’s not always helpful; life has a way of messing up even the most careful plans. Kids need structure, sure, but they also need to be able to adjust to the inevitable curve balls.

  • Don’t always say no to something that might happen during a naptime or mealtime. It’s okay if schedules occasionally vary.
  • Be spontaneous when you can. Go for an unplanned outing, and otherwise make last-minute plans sometimes.
  • When plans change or fall through, be upbeat about it and make the most of it. Be a role model.

In helping your children learn these skills, you might just learn something about yourself — and learn some new skills too.

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