How to Keep the Back Seat Clean

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I handed my 5-year-old a few books and some trash from his car seat and asked him to take it into the house and put it where it belongs. He put it back on the car seat, said “no” and walked in the house. I am proud of myself that I didn’t react, but now I have no idea what to do about it. -Theresa, Miami, Florida


You already did the hardest part: you stopped yourself from doing something right away. When we fail at this, the angry part of our brains can make us do something that we regret.

As I think you already know, you have to calmly let your kid know that there will be a consequence for his refusal to be responsible.

Later, probably the next day, this is how I would train your kid to be responsible:

Finding his keys after an extensive search, Kid Whisperer is ready to get in the car with Kid.

Kid Whisperer: I will take all kids in the car who are ready.

Kid: I’m down.

Kid Whisperer: Great!

Kid: I will be traveling with these seven books, two Pop-Tarts, and this crumb cake. As you know, very little of this will be going into my mouth. I hope you enjoy the cleaning of car seats. Let us away.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, dear. That reminds me. I must have somehow given you the idea that it is my job to clean up after you. I apologize if I gave you that impression. Until you are more mature and able to clean up on your own when asked, or even before being asked, you won’t be able to bring anything in the car.

Kid: But I enjoy entertaining accoutrement and crumbly snacks.

Kid Whisperer: I hear ya. Would you like to hold my hand, or would you like to walk to the car on your own?

Kid: Ugh, I’m going already.

Kid walks to the car.

Kid Whisperer then walks to the car with Kid. Kid is not allowed to bring anything in the car for weeks. In the case of potentially entertaining items (books, toys) this will cause boredom. In the case of snacks, this will cause hunger. After a few weeks, before getting in the car, Kid Whisperer says the following:

Kid Whisperer: I’m interested to see if you are able to be responsible for cleaning up after yourself in the car. Feel free to bring books in the car. You will be allowed to continue taking books in the car as long as you can remember to bring them back in, either by remembering on your own, or being asked exactly once.

Kid: And if I refuse?

Kid Whisperer: I suppose you will be able to experience the excitement of finding out.

In the case of any further refusal, simply repeat. If this happens more than two times, calmly limit Kid vehicular transport to essential activities: to school or to the grocery. No more driving to play dates, amusement parks, etc. until the appropriate level of responsibility is achieved.