We’ve been having a lot of trouble with A not wanting to clean up lately, at our house and at friends’ houses on playdates. At home, I can usually find some way to coerce her into getting the job done (“You can’t do X until you’ve cleaned up your blocks”). But when we’re playing at other people’s homes, and it’s time to leave, I have no leverage. She doesn’t want the fun to end, so she simply refuses to put a single item away. Brilliant!
I’ve tried reasoning with her, asking her if she played with the toys, and if so, who should be responsible for cleaning them up.
I’ve tried pointing out that the other kids are cleaning up.
I’ve tried putting her in timeout during the playdate.
I’ve tried putting her in timeout once we get home.
I’ve tried demonstrating what needs to be done by cleaning up myself and handing her toys to put away (which she simply throws to the ground).
I’ve tried praising the other children who are doing what they’re supposed to do.
I’ve tried explaining that she will be praised, too, for her efforts.
I’ve tried telling her that we can’t go to friends’ homes in the future if she won’t help clean up.
I’ve tried getting her to promise she’s going to help clean up right before we walk into a playdate.
I’ve tried telling her that big sisters (a title she’s really taken to) have to help clean up, and asking if she’s a baby or a big sister. Her response? “I’m a baby.”
Each time, it’s the same story: I give her several minutes’ warning that it’s almost time to head home; she says, “No, I don’t want to go home!”; things spiral out of control.
One thing you should know about my child is that she’s incredibly stubborn. (Her father says she gets that from me.) If she doesn’t want to do something, she and I can sit and discuss/argue about it for thirty minutes without her giving in. She just will not budge, so I start to get frustrated and desperate that I have no way to make my toddler do what she must do. And, frankly, it’s embarrassing.
The last time this scenario transpired at a friend’s house, in an act of desperation, I told A she would have to go in timeout when we got home and she wouldn’t be able to play with any of her own toys after that. True to my word, she spent fifteen to twenty minutes in timeout at home, just sitting quietly, totally unfazed by the punishment. Of course, this is how she normally responds to timeout: no response at all.
Sitting quietly—being pulled away from the activity—doesn’t bother my child in the slightest. She acts like it’s a nice respite, in fact! I can keep going over to her and saying, “Are you ready to be finished in timeout?” and she’ll say, “No, not yet.” Eventually, way beyond the point when anyone would reasonably think you can/should keep a two-year-old in timeout, she’ll call me over with a smile and tell me she’s finished, at which point we’ll debrief on the experience that got her there in the first place. But all this doesn’t change her behavior.
And what about not having any toys to play with for the rest of the day. Yeah, she didn’t really seem to mind. She’d go to pick up an item, and I’d calmly remind her that she wasn’t allowed to play with it because she didn’t help clean up the last set of toys she used at her friend’s house, and she’d just put it back down. No big deal.
Then, after eating her dinner, she made her usual request for dessert. I explained that since she had told me she was a “baby”—not a big sister—and didn’t have to clean up, she wouldn’t be able to have dessert either, because babies don’t eat dessert. Did she kick and scream and throw a fit about it? Nope. That would make things too easy. She didn’t bat an eye. Nothing fazes this kid!
Now, I’ve done my reading. I found an article on Baby Center about “What to Do When Timeouts Don’t Work,” but they write nothing about strategies for the kid who doesn’t mind being in timeout for twenty minutes! And according to Parents.com’s “5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Listen,” which highlights techniques from “the Bible” on this subject (How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish), I’m already using some pretty reasonable parenting techniques:
- Providing information about why A needs to comply and help out
- Giving her a choice about whether she’d like to attend a playdate and help clean up, or not attend at all. Or, asking her which toys she’d like to clean up first.
- Stating my expectations for her behavior prior to us attending a playdate, repeatedly.
I’m stumped!! Please, please tell me: What would you do with a child for whom no punishment seems appropriate, or like punishment enough, because it won’t get her attention enough to change her behavior?