The other night I went into my seven year old’s bedroom to kiss him good night. On my way in, I almost tripped over a literal booby-trap that was set. The condition of his room has been a ‘focus area’ for us lately. This time, the culprit was a new toy he had just received for his birthday. There were strings and lines hanging from every which way, all throughout his room (a ‘laser maze’), not to mention his room being a total wreck, we had a family friend staying in the bottom bunk in his room.
“Whooaa! Hey bud, how do you think it's going to be for (our guest) to get into her bed tonight? Will be easy or not so easy?
He then hit me with a barrage of excuses as to why his room needed to stay in the state that it was in. I asked him once to clean it up, and again I only got more excuses. “No problem” I said. “How about I'll just pick it up so that (our guest) can get to her bed safely, and then I'll hang on to this new toy to ensure the safety of this room tonight?”
He began to panic. “Wait! Mom, no way! I'll get up! I’ll clean it up!”
He was up and motivated now!
“Well” I said, “I kind of already did some of the work. How about you clean up the rest of your room if you would like a chance of playing with this toy again?”
Elias quickly began cleaning his room, throwing away all the garbage that he had left on the floor. He was really putting in an effort, and I could see his heart and his willingness to do something that he didn't want to do before.
When he asked me to check to see if his room was clean, there were still a lot of things to be tidied up but it was getting late and I wanted him to rest. “It's looking better buddy,” I said. “But there still some work to do. Would you like another chance at cleaning up your room after you get home from school tomorrow? I could make sure that I was around in case you needed help on how to organize things.”
“Yeah Mom, I would.”
“Great! I'll keep your new toy safe until then,” I promised him. I want Elias to know that I'm for him. I want to his anxiety to stay down.
He won't learn a whole lot when he's under the influence of fear. I want him to know that I have good things for him, and that our relationship is the gateway to the opportunities and things he wants. However, I also want him to value the things that I value, such as a clean (and at least SAFE) room. In order for him to get a value for those things, I want to be a resource for him, so that he can gain a healthy appreciation for such things as this.
The next morning after breakfast, on his way out the door, he said, “Hey Mom. Remember you are going to give me another chance to clean my room, right?”
“That's right buddy! I’m proud of you for already remembering and intending to make the right choice when you get home from school!”
The first thing Elias said once he was in the car from school was, “ Hey Mom. I am going to get my room finished once we get home.’
“Awesome buddy! What a great idea! Do you need any help with that?”
“Yeah Mom. I need some ideas for where to put my new toys that I just got for my birthday.”
“You got it!” I said.
Elias went straight to organizing the rest of his toys, and I came in and gave him some suggestions for areas to put them in. In one of those areas we placed his new ‘booby trap’ (laser toy).
“Elias, when you take care of your things like this, it means a lot to me. Thank you.”
“Thank you for helping me by giving me some ideas of where to keep things, Mom!”
At first there was some resistance over cleaning his room, and even though we have been over and over this, I did not let that ruffle my feathers. I stayed in control of myself and Elias followed suit! He recognized what mattered to me and we stayed connected as we worked together through what exactly a clean room looked like!