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I Don’t Want To Clean My Room!
It’s hot and humid outside. My cat is feeling feisty today, nipping Hubster’s toes, batting his paws at Pumpkin and jumping on and around everything. My grumpy son would rather play tired and sick than straighten his bedroom (which he had over a week to accomplish). Hubster’s eye is irritated and therefore he’s cranky. So I threw some cat treats around for Rory to hunt.  I let my son pout, babied him, and mentioned we’d have to cancel our plans to visit his cousins since he was “sick”. I called the doctor to set up an appointment for Hubster and sent him out the door. Then I got a tall glass of water, went down into the cool basement, started a load of laundry and hid for a while (working on a few small half-started projects).

Refreshed, I went upstairs to encourage my son to straighten (not even clean) his room. Little did I know, that I was in store to battle a bedroom banshee! I asked him to start by cleaning out the clothing that no longer fits him. Everything went according to plans for about 40 minutes and I sensed a meltdown coming. I told him I was going to set the timer on the oven and he could take a 10 minutes break; resting, watching t.v., getting a drink, going to the bathroom, whatever he needed to do in order to be ready when the buzzer sounded. Ten minutes later he was ready to tackle his clothes again, but 20 minutes into work, the meltdown started to resurface. This time I suggested another break and I got a total bedroom banshee with clenched fists, “It’s my room! You can’t tell me that I have to clean it, because it’s my room! THIS IS HOW I WANT IT TO LOOK!” as tired tears streamed down his face.

I simply replied, “Your body is telling me that you’re quite tired. You have two choices, either you can turn off the light and take a nap or you can continue finishing this task. That’s your only choice right now.” He chose to climb into his bed… five minutes later he had decided by himself to continue hanging up his shirts.

I said to him, “Your choice was to either nap or hang up your clothing, and I see that you changed your mind and decide to finish your task. That was a good choice, thank you for making a good decision.” Waterworks started again, I had startled him (seven years old!). I left him to work for 10 minutes, he was doing more crying than working. This time I told him he didn’t have a choice, that he had to get into bed. For 40 minutes I listened to my banshee wail while I softly hummed to myself. I gave him a tall glass of water to drink. I talked to my mom on the phone.

He almost calmly told me, “I have too many clothes! It’s too hard!” and then he quickly escalated back into screeching “It’s my room…” I walked into the kitchen and returned to his bedroom with two trash bags in my hand, I started scooping all of his clothes into the bags. His eyes bulged out of his head and he screamed, “Those are my clothes! What are you doing?”

I placed a nice smile on my face and sweetly said, “Oh, but honey, you said you had too many clothes. So now I want you to pick out two short sleeve shirts, two long sleeves, two pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, and a jacket, then it won’t be so hard for you to take care of what you have.”

“YOU CAN’T TAKE MY CLOTHES! THEY’RE MINE! WHAT’RE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THEM? I HATE IT HERE! YOU CAN”T TAKE THEM! IT’S NOT FAIR! YOU’RE NOT FAIR!..” (I’ve seen similar meltdowns on Supernanny, but they were usually toddlers… not seven-year olds).

“But darling, you told me you had too many. I’m helping you by making it easier for you to straighten.” He screamed and wailed and turned red in the face… but he picked out a few outfits to keep. I then added, “Once you show me that you can take care of the clothes you do have, you will be able to pick out another outfit. If you can keep taking care of the stuff you already have, you may earn back another outfit.” (I remember my mother doing a similar thing to my sister; she actually shoveled everything out of my sister’s room, who could then earn it back once she had a “home” for it.)

“YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!!”

“I’ll tell you what you’re not doing then (sweetly). You’re not going to visit your cousins unless your bedroom is straightened. You spent so much energy crying that you could’ve put into working on your room. You could have been done by now.” I started to walk away… (still humming and smiling to myself).

“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CLEAN MY ROOM IF YOU’RE NOT HERE? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

I then set the timer giving him 10 minutes to get another drink, wash his face and rest. I suggested he figure out how he should ask me for help once the timer buzzes.

From somewhere, my sweet son returned and asked, “Mom, can you help me clean my room?”
“No, Pumpkin. I will not help to clean.”
“Will you at least, please, tell me what to do?”

“Ah! Before you told me I couldn’t tell you what to do. Now you want me to tell you what to do. I don’t normally tell you what to do, I normally give you choices. Now, here is your choice. I can either be a parent who gives you choices and guides you while you’re making choices. That way you’ll be able to make you own choices when you’re grown. Or I can be a parent who tells you what to do and you’ll have to do what I want you to do, when and where I want you to do it. That will not teach you how to make choices and when you grow up you may have trouble making good choices on your own. What kind of parent do you want me to be? The choice is yours.”

“The good kind, the kind that helps me grow.” Then everything magically seems better; he realized he couldn’t beat me down or manipulate me, he remembered the child/parent roles and he began to straighten his room. I gave him a choice between two tasks and set the timer at 10-15 minute intervals. Then I came back to check on his progress and suggested another two tasks (telling him exactly how long I’d give him before I would be back to check). Of course we took several five and ten minute breaks to keep him focused. For the next two hours, he whipped his room into shape. He got to pick out another short sleeve, long sleeve, pair of shorts and pair of pants to add to his closet. The bedroom banshee is gone… but my headache isn’t…

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