So much of parenting requires risk analysis.
On one hand, we have the future well-being of our children to consider. If we don't teach them to clean up after themselves, they might grow up to be messy and entitled brats.
On the other hand, we have the current well-being of us, the parents, to take into account. We are living in the age of burnout. Many of us lack the bandwidth -- emotional and temporal -- to get our children to clean up their Hot Wheels on a regular basis. There's so much to squeeze into a day (jobs need to be worked, dishes need to be cleaned, stories need to be read, etc). Is it really so wrong to cut the tedious child-led clean-up session out of the daily schedule?
The short answer is, absolutely not. With few exceptions, there's no single activity that can make or break our children's characters. Maybe your kids don't clean up their toys, but they do other chores like feeding the dog or setting the table. There are oh so many ways to instill a sense of responsibility in our children. If you aren't doing any of them, or if your kid loses it when you make any request, then you have a bigger problem than that pile of toys or whatever it is you are quickly cleaning up.
The tricky part is striking the balance between teaching our kids these lessons and not turning into frazzled lunatics ourselves in the process.
Carla Naumburg, author of the upcoming "How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids
," said parents need to remember that "it is not their job to teach their children everything."
"We parents expect ourselves to be the teacher, the coach, the therapist, the cook, the jailor, the judge. Everything! Parents need to trust that other people in their kids' lives are teaching their kids, too," she said, adding that it's fairly common for children to have to clean up after themselves in school.
Daniel Siegel, a child psychologist and co-author of "The Whole-Brain Child
" and other parenting books, encourages a quality-over-quantity approach to teaching children responsibility. He wants parents to put their energy into something they have the bandwidth to do and then stick with it.
"Your child is looking to you for regularity, routines and predictability, though not rigidity. They want a structure that has flexibility to it," Siegel said, adding that parents should think hard about which responsibility lessons feel necessary to them.
Some issues, like teaching a child not to play with knives, are obviously urgent. Other issues, like a child who doesn't finish his Cheerios every morning, are obviously trivial. It's the ones in the middle, which might include getting your child to clean up after themselves, that can be most challenging to figure out how to handle.
"You have to decide, what's the deal?" he said. "If you come to the conclusion that teaching