Behavior and Consequences – Without Yelling or Tears

In mid-February, I looked into my daughter’s bedroom and realized I had had enough. “All the way, up to here, couldn’t stand the mess one more minute” kind of enough.

“Clean your room,” had become a daily admonition, complete with lawyer-like arguments on her part, “You didn’t say clean all of it,” or “I thought you just meant pick up those clothes over there.”

My 11-year-old could have a bright future in the courtroom, but I was damned sick and tired of the mess that covered every surface of her room, crept along the floor, and had apparently begun breeding (if such things are possible).

I put my foot down, “This WILL be cleaned up, all of it, and you will NOT be involving me or your dad in the process. At this point, you do know how to clean your room, you have made this mess all by yourself, and you and you alone are responsible for it continuing to be like this.”

It took a week.

It took taking away her laptop, her Kindle, and eventually even television and ability to play with friends.

“I finished cleaning my room, Dad.”

My husband came in and inspected. He was satisfied. Then I came in and inspected, I had a few more things on my list. Surfaces were dusted, the floor was vacuumed, and I briefly looked up at (but did not climb the ladder to inspect) her platform bed. At a glance, all seemed fine.

The following day, I had to walk into her room to open or close her curtains and I happened to look up. A mound of empty soda cans, a bag of trash, and containers of snack foods were up on her bed.

The consequences were the loss of electronics again and the new rule: Eat in your room and lose electronics privileges for three days.

I had been willing to allow food and drink if it was handled responsibly – dishes not piling up, wrappers and food particles not on the ground, and food not stored in the room – but these rules had been repeatedly violated.

After that it was smooth sailing…until mid-March. Em was gone at a friend’s when I walked into her room to retrieve her laundry basket. I saw piles of candy wrappers on the floor.

So when she came home and came into my office to talk to me I said, “So, I went into your room to get your laundry basket and there were clothes on the floor, but I didn’t know which were clean and which weren’t. Also, there were a bunch of candy wrappers on the floor,” I paused and looked her in the eye and continued in a calm voice, “Want to tell me about that?”

Her shoulders sagged and she looked down at the ground, “I ate candy in my room. I know it was against the rules.”

“Yeah, it was. And the wrappers were all over the floor, which is one of the reasons I made the rule in the first place.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

I nodded and smiled at her. “I’m not mad, but you remember the consequences, right?”

“Yeah, no electronics for three days. So when does that start?”

“Well, it’s 3 p.m. now, and it’s a Sunday, so you can have them back on Wednesday after 3 p.m.”

“Okay!”

Later that evening we talked more about it and I told her, “I don’t want to be a grumpy, mean mom, but there are times when I have to enforce the rules. You understand that, right?”

She nodded. “You said it in a really nice way and I knew you weren’t mad, but I also knew I had broken the rules.” She shrugged, “Break the rules, get banned from electronics for three days.”

I didn’t say it, mainly because I don’t want there to be any confusion or stepping over the line right now, but if she had just thrown her wrappers away, it wouldn’t have been a problem. I would not have objected to candy wrappers in her trash. Not at all!

I just don’t want the trash on the floor or dishes covered in food in her room or food stored in her room. Trash goes in the trash, dishes go in the sink, and food stays downstairs.

Basic rules.

I am thankful for her attitude, though. She is an amazing kid and I am very lucky.

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