About cleaning up: The Sunday Box

14 Jul

Clean Up, Clean Up


It is all too easy for clutter to develop when you have children. Toys and stuffed animals have a way of accumulating despite your best intentions. You are busy and if your suggestions about cleaning up are meet with resistance, then it can seem easier to do it yourself or just to let the matter slide. Perhaps if your child has more than the usual difficulty dealing with transitions, such as from playtime to bedtime, it just doesn’t seem worth the struggle. And then again, perhaps you need to begin with setting a better example yourself. There are also children who can develop unusual emotional attachments to objects, so that they won’t throw away a Lego box because it reminds them of their birthday, or they protest when the old toaster oven has to be thrown away because it has special memories of breakfast. Other children may collect bits of trash because they might be able to find a use for it in some art project; however, the collection continues to grow and grow. Regardless of the reasons, it is important that children learn to organize their belongings and clean up after themselves.


   The Sunday Box is a simple and highly effective way to get your children to clean up after themselves. It has the hallmark features of a good behavioral intervention in that it involves very little talking and lets the consequences make the point. The Sunday Box involves picking a certain time each evening, perhaps right after dinner, when your children need to have finished putting away their belongings. At that designated time, you walk around with a large box or trash bag, “the Sunday Box” and put into the box anything that has not been put away. You repeat this patrol with the Sunday Box every night until the clean-up habit is well established. The Sunday Box is securely put away so the children cannot get to it. Some parents have resorted to putting it in the truck of their car, and then bringing it out on Sundays, when any items can be retrieved by the child. Any item that the child does not take out of the Sunday Box remains in the box and if it stays in there for more than two weeks, perhaps this is an indication that the item in question has outlived its usefulness and should be donated to charity or “disappear” for a while — to reappear at a later date when it may be more appreciated.


Before starting with the Sunday Box, explain to your child what the Box will involve. It is also important to develop an organizational strategy with your child about where things go, so that at clean-up time he doesn’t have try to figure out where to put things. Thus, there is a box for Legos, crayons, action figures/dolls, and everything has its designated place. One reason that clutter develops is that there is not a system for filing and putting belongings, so things get piled and not filed. Do not threaten your child with the Sunday Box. Just simply announce “Oh it is 7 o’clock, time for the Sunday Box,” and let the actions speak. When your child complains that he doesn’t have a particular item, listen compassionately and remind him that the item will be available on Sunday. If it is an item such as a winter coat, you can substitute a less desirable item until Sunday. But the learning is in the experiencing of the consequences and not with a lot of discussion and reminding by the parents and that is why this is a very effective intervention.



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