Q: It seems every kid on the block hangs out at our house. We have stricter rules than most parents on our street about where our grade-school children are allowed to go, so all the kids end up here. I’m pleased that they feel comfortable at our home, but sometimes it feels overwhelming. What should we do?
Jim: This issue has more to do with the grown-ups in your neighborhood than with the kids. Uncomfortable as it sounds, I’d encourage you to initiate some friendly, straightforward conversations with the other parents on your street. Explain that while you love having their kids at your home, it would be helpful if everyone could agree on some ground rules. For example, it would be a good idea if the kids brought along their own snacks — or snacks to share — rather than raiding your fridge every time they get hungry. You can also minimize some of the bathroom cleanup by suggesting that they make a habit of visiting the restroom at home before coming over to play.
When you’re talking with the neighborhood parents, keep in mind that this can be a great time to learn more about them, their backgrounds, their perspectives on life, and their basic values. Discuss the limits you set for your kids’ behavior and find out if they’re on the same page. If they are, and if you feel confident that there’s adequate supervision, there’s no reason why you can’t allow your kids to spend some time playing at their homes. That way, you can begin to spread this responsibility around the neighborhood a little more evenly.
While you want to protect your children from dangers and negative influences, it’s also important for their growth and development to look for opportunities to lengthen the proverbial leash a bit whenever reasonable and appropriate.
Q: How do I train my 2-year-old to clean up after herself? She’ll go into her sisters’ room and destroy it, and won’t help clean up unless I threaten to punish her. Then she picks up only a couple of things before getting distracted. Frankly, it’s easier for me to clean it up myself. My older girls complain that they have to clean up, but their little sister doesn’t. I know this isn’t fair, but what else can I do?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: As any parent knows, the most challenging task of raising a toddler is setting boundaries. It is important to teach your youngest daughter that she has to clean up the messes she makes, but that might be an impossible task if the messes are too big. Part of teaching your 2-year-old responsibility is not allowing her to get into trouble or create messes that are too big for her to clean up.
To start with, limit her play areas. If she consistently trashes her sisters’ room, make that room off-limits. Keep play spaces confined to her own room or a family room. And in those areas, limit the number of toys she has access to at a given time. For example, give her a choice between playing with the dollhouse or the blocks. Then show her how to clean up one thing immediately before she moves on to the next.
What she’s capable of handling is going to grow with time. The lesson of cleaning up a few toys will transfer to greater responsibility in years to come. Resist the temptation to swoop in and clean up for her — but remember that you need to model what cleanup does look like. The extra time and effort now will be well worth it as your daughter grows.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.