Messy Rooms and Play Time

Early this week, my 4 year old dumped out every single toy bin in his room, making a total mess. Instead of getting angry, I smiled, an idea forming in my mind. We’ve already gone down a similar road before in the living room.

I let the kids play to their hearts’ content. Later in the day, my son inevitably came and beg-whined for me to let him watch tv. The answer was on the tip of my tongue: “Sure sweetie, as soon as you clean up your room.” Of course, I had to repeat and explain the phrase a few times so he knew exactly what I was talking about before he agreed, but he did. He took off to his room, and in less than 5 minutes was busy playing again, having totally forgotten about the tv.

I knew the scheme would work because it’s worked before in the living room with him, when he or his little sister made a mess of their toys. I didn’t expect, however, for the ploy to work ALL WEEK. That first night and really every night since, of ignoring the mess, pushing toys to the side so we can walk, inevitably painfully stepping on a block, or being unable to find their favorite snuggle bear for bedtime has been tough. But, it’s been absolutely wonderful to have the tv off all week!


My husband’s theory is that they forget what toys they have to play with when the toys are all put away. My only thought is that kids are perfectly capable of creative play, they simply need to be engaged and not given the easy-way-out of tv or less beneficial types of play.

We’ve had weeks before where my son pretty much watched tv all-day everyday, maybe due to crappy weather, someone being sick, or me having to take care of an infant (baby girl is 2 now). Resetting after weeks like that is always difficult: full of tears, whining, tantrums, giving in, and finally putting your foot down again. We aren’t perfect over here, but hopefully you’ll get something out of this post that can help with whatever struggles you’re facing with your toddlers.

One thing I’ve found to be really helpful is establishing rules, even if your tot can’t comprehend or remember them yet. No tv before lunch is one of ours. It’s a simple way to remove the back and forth, pleading (of the toddler), and temptation (for me) to give in. The answer is always ‘no,’ no matter how sweet he’s being or how nice I’m feeling. The consistency is great. He just turned four, so I know his understanding of rules and scheduled times for this or that will only improve over the next few years.

We’ll probably clean up the toys today, in preparation for this weekend, but I can’t help but hope he dumps them all out again next week so we can avoid the tv again. It’s been really fun listening to them play the last few days. They’ll close the door and jam their music so I have no idea what they’re up to outside of the sporadic shouts and laughter I hear. 😀


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