Monday, October 10, 2011

Toy Jail

Years ago, when the girls were little, after many failed attempts at getting them to clean their rooms and pick up their toys, we started this great cleaning/discipline strategy that we lovingly called TOY JAIL (they didn't love it, but I did.) 

Essentially, if they left their toys out after the alotted "clean up" time (which is BEFORE school, BEFORE playdates, BEFORE TV or computer time) their toys would be subject to being confiscated and thrown into TOY JAIL.  Toys in TOY JAIL have to be purchased back by the owner with our household currency... 

And only one toy can be purchased in a 24 hour period.  The rule was: "If you love it, put it away.  Otherwise it belongs to Mommy."  There were many tears when someone would come home and find their "beloved something" missing.  And occasionally there were extremely creative ways of liberating toys.  Once, TCD (who had LOTS of toy prisoners) convinced Spell Girl (who had lots of tickets) that it would be "the right thing to do" to free all of her toys for her.  We figured out quickly who were our workers and who were our negotiators. 

Overall, it was an effective method of getting children to put away their things.  And even when they neglected that responsibility, I still ended up with a clean space.  Sometime between 2003 when Mack was born and last weekend, though, we must have abandoned the TOY JAIL philosophy.  For all of Mack's life, he's had more mothers and helpers than any little boy needs.  Which is a good thing and a debilitating thing.  Apparently, it's prevented him from learning how to take care of his stuff.

On Saturday morning, I asked everyone to clean their rooms and pick up their stuff (just like I do EVERY DAY of their lives.)  At 11:30, Mack's friends came to get him to play football.  He said, "Can I go??"  and I said, "Is your room clean?"  (And I don't think I just asked if it was generically clean.  I think I specifically asked, "Is your bed made?"  "Are your clothes put away?"  "Are your toys put away?"  To which he answered emphatic YES's.)   So, I said he could play, and off he went. 

...and then I walked upstairs!

There were more toys than carpet as far as the eye could see.  His clean clothes, that I had just washed and folded, were strewn all over the floor.  His bed was unmade.  Not only was his room NOT clean; it looked like a tornado had hit it sometime in the night.  I wish I could say that I was rational and calm about the whole thing, but Saturday was not a good day for me anyway, and this was that LAST STRAW that just about broke me.  He was too far away to retrieve from playing, but in my blind rage, I had a brilliant idea!

I got a trash bag and a large Rubbermaid tub from the garage and I resurrected TOY JAIL.  I, not so carefully, put all of the trash (including things that may have just looked like trash) in the trash bag and all the toys and clothes into the tub.  Then I hauled them both downstairs and waited for Mack's return. 

I did eventually calm down.  By the time Mack got home, I had already let out all of my aggression on his toys, so there wasn't any left for him.  After his inital shock and horror, we talked about TOY JAIL and the importance of taking care of our things.  I showed him where his stuff was and assured him that it would be there until he earned it all back.  I explained that the girls had all had their TOY JAIL experiences in the past, and now they're so good at keeping their things tidy (I wish that were entirely true.)  And each of the girls commiserated with him that he had to suffer this heartache. 
But, in the end, TOY JAIL on Saturday was extremely effective. 

1) Mack has kept his room clean for the past three days and has asked more times this week than in his entire life if there are any jobs he can do around the house.  Do you think 8 is too young to clean gutters?


2) When the girls saw the mood I was in, they quickly cleaned their rooms TO PERFECTION so that I would have no reason to collect any of their belongings.  And they kept them clean. 

Sometimes fear can inspire greatness....

I try not to be the dragon too often.

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