Picking Up


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


A common problem reported by parents is their frustration is with routine clean up of the house. Having and ordered house is important to adults but not always to children. Children seem to need constant reminding to pick up their coat, toys, or books. As the family dynamics play themselves out in this situation, parents may feel like "nags" and children may come belligerent or resentful because of constant reminding pick up this or put that away. An idea on how to handle routine pick up without becoming the "Wicked Witch of the West" follows. It is a suggestion that may be of value to parents as they design lessons to help their children learn to be responsible family members.

Obtain a cardboard box that is large enough to hold most toys and other personal possessions of your child/children. Write in large letters on the box the words "JAIL," "DUNGEON," or "THE BRIG." The parent may even want to spend time decorating the box. When the "box" is ready hold a family council to introduce the jail and explain the rules regarding the jail. Your rules should incorporate the following ideas.

     Picking up the house is not the Mother/Father's responsibility. Having the house in order is the responsibility of family members. Parents are only supervisors. They are not maids.

     As a parent you do not want to become a professional nag. Therefore you will provide a limited reminding service to the children. When you see a child's toy or other personal property in unauthorized space you will remind the child once to place that possession in, an appropriate storage area. If the possession remains where it is for an unreasonable time (Parent determines) then the toy/property will be taken into protective custody and placed in the Toy Jail.

     Items placed in the jail can be released from protective custody in one of two ways. Early release can be arranged if the appropriate fees are paid. (This can be with cash, I.O.U. - to be redeemed at allowance time, or with a toy exchange agreeable to the parent.) Normal release is Friday at 5:00 PM each week. (Time determined by the parent. Friday works out best because the children have the toys when you want they to have them on the week end.)

     Because the parent will always provide a limited reminder there will be no other talking or nagging, even if the child is inconvenienced (Homework in jail). Pouting and other methods of controlling parents will be ignored. Negotiation for Early Release will be done at the Parent's convince, not the child's. A child's history of responsibility will be taken into consideration when assigning fees/conditions of Early Release.

        The jail will be placed into operation on a specific date determined by the parent and the need for it will be evaluated periodically. (This can be done once every three months.) Children may give written reports to the parents outlining why they feel the jail is or is not necessary. Their reports can include other ideas on how to keep the house picked up and/or what action they will take if the jail was no longer in commission. When the parent decides that the jail is no longer needed there will be an official decommissioning ceremony in which the jail will be placed in attic storage. A party also could be held to celebrate and discuss the progress made.

When parents are frustrated with a messy house usually the kids are not. The "jail solution" is designed to reverse this situation. It is designed to place responsibility on the children who will become frustrated when the consequences are imposed.

Remain calm and in control even if your children are not. Enjoy implementing this procedure. Ham it up if you want to. It will make the "picking up" lesson that you have designed, a lesson that will be remembered and discussed by your children for years to come.