Tuesday, May 14, 2013


lunch boxes, water bottles, and snack containers

We pulled up in front of the piano teacher's house, and I opened the sliding door. As the kids tumbled out in a rush, I called, "Someone needs to take the piano bag!"

I realized my mistake the second the words left my mouth. It was as if I could see the words floating in the air in front of me, and I cringed for the half second it took for the response I knew was coming.

"I took it last time!"

"I always take it! It's your turn!"

"You're closer!"

"It's not fair!"

And so on and so forth, until the big one was rolling his eyes and huff-puffing and the little one was screeching.

It was a passing argument like any other, but a light bulb went off in my head. Every time I give them a general direction--someone do it, clean your room, bring your things in from the car--either nothing happens or they argue. From now on, I will be direct and specific in what I want from them.

To me, bring your things inside when we arrive home from school is an obvious instruction, but it's apparently too vague for my kids. Lunch boxes, backpacks, books, jackets, and an assortment of snack containers and water bottles remain littered in the back of the minivan. When I have to send one of them back out to retrieve a missing backpack or lunch box, I get the I'm-so-put-upon look.

Yesterday, when we arrived home from our day, I told each child what I expected. "You bring your backpack, your gymnastics bag, the snack container, and your water bottle. You bring your lunch box, gymnastics bag, jacket, and book. I will carry everything else." (Because I'm convinced my primary job as a mother is sherpa.)

I'll be damned. No one complained, and only one snack container was left behind.

Over the weekend, I wanted my son to pick up some small amount of the mess he'd made in his room and in the seating area outside his room, but I really didn't care if he put away the umpteen LEGO projects on the floor. Usually, I would have said, "You need to clean up some of your room. At least make a path." Instead, I said, "You need to put away the books lying on the chairs, the books on your bedroom floor, and the LEGO drawers." He required one reminder to get started, but otherwise did as I asked.

This could be life-altering.

Thus far, the only additional challenge I've found is that I need to make sure they are listening, not just nodding or uh-huhing at the word-like sounds coming out of the hole in my head. In our house, that means making the kid look up from the book in his hand and make eye contact with me so I can repeat the instruction I just gave.

It's not a perfect system, but it's an improvement. Try it at your house and let me know if you notice a difference.

I'm trying to make this parenting thing more successful one baby step at a time. Specificity is the step of the day.


  1. I need to work on this too -- even a 13 year still needs very specific instructions including a time frame for completion. I must get better at this!

  2. I need to do this, too. Excellent.