Dear Kid Whisperer,
I need help/advice to get my kids to stop destroying the house. They are ages 12, 7 and 3. I have to spend four hours cleaning if I want the house to be clean, and then they immediately wreck it again. They leave toys and crumbs everywhere, ignoring all limits we have placed on them. I’m pregnant right now and I really can’t keep this up. I’m about to have a panic attack. Taking away games and play time with friends hasn’t worked. Sitting them down and telling them how much stress it’s causing hasn’t worked either.
-Melissa, Fort Worth, Texas
This really is tough. I think this is a serious situation because you really could have a panic attack at this rate and you have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your family, especially while pregnant.
At the first sight of a single crumb or toy, I would become very, very sad and say the following:
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. A crumb. Ugh. Everyone, I’m so sorry for lecturing and warning you about keeping the house clean. I’m sorry I made you think that your mess is my problem. That must have been confusing. I’m going to take care of this situation.
Kid #1: What are you going to do?
Kid Whisperer: I’m too sad and pregnant to talk about this. You’ll see.
I would then, when they aren’t awake, aren’t there, or aren’t paying attention, take away ALL toys, and lock up ALL food.
I know that the last one takes some logistical work, but families I have coached have done some basic locksmithing (putting locks on cabinets and the fridge). To be clear: NOTHING should be available to them.
Kid #2: Where are all the toys? Why are there locks on everything in the kitchen?
Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. I just don’t have the energy to keep cleaning up after you all. Since you guys are showing me that you can’t clean up after yourselves, the only other option was to make sure you have nothing to clean up.
Kid #3: No, no, no! We’ll clean up! We promise!
Kid Whisperer: There’s nothing to clean up. I took care of it. Maybe someday you can start having things and we can unlock the kitchen once you show me that you can do what is asked of you.
Kid: When will that be?
Kid Whisperer: It depends on how responsible you are. Maybe next week, maybe never. It’s up to you.
I would wait at least a few days, and then give one single toy back to the kid who has been the most responsible.
Kid Whisperer: Feel free to keep this as long as you can remember to put it away.
The moment he forgets to put it away according to your rules, it gets taken away. Slowly give toys back when you notice that kids are being responsible with their current toy allotment.
I would keep all food locked away for weeks, if not months, just so you can take care of yourself and never have to worry about crumbs. I would eventually let them know that you will keep the fridge unlocked as long as no one goes into it for anything. I would have predetermined snack and meal times and, if you want, one or two healthy things that they can eat any time while in the kitchen. If one crumb ends up in the living room or they sneak anything, the locks come back out for at least another month and the healthy anytime snacks go away.
Take good care of yourself. I get nervous when I hear the words “pregnant” and “panic attack” so close together! Stay well!