When I walked into my daughter’s preschool class I overheard the teacher saying in a very calm voice, “Okay, boys and girls, you have five minutes until it is time to clean-up.” Considering that children have no sense of time, I wondered why she didn’t just say, “Time to clean-up!” But five minutes later when my daughter’s teacher turned off the lights, the room came to a halt. She then spoke in a whisper, “Boys and girls, it is time to put the toys away so we can get ready for lunch.” The children immediately started to chant the class clean-up song and all of the children pitched in willingly to pick up the toys.
I was amazed. Without having to be reminded several times and without dialogue about her role in cleaning up items that she played with, my daughter did just as she was asked. Whenever I asked my daughter to clean-up at home it almost always ended in a verbal disagreement on why she had to clean-up or a debate about why she cannot play for just a little bit longer.
So I decided to mimic the teacher’s “respectful warning” in my own home. One day when it was almost time for her bath, I said to my daughter, “Shari, you have five more minutes to play with your toys and then you will have to clean-up so you can take a bath.”
“Okay, mommy,” she replied.
Five minutes later I said in a low tone of voice, “Shari, it is time to clean-up now.” My daughter, who would typically argue about cleaning or beg for more time to play, immediately started picking up her own toys. I was even more shocked than I had been in her classroom!
Young children have a difficult time transitioning from one thing to the next. I had no idea that “respectful warnings” were the solution. When parents expect children to end any activity abruptly they tend to shut down. This experience allowed me to understand that young children need time to mentally prepare themselves to transition from one thing to the next.
I had often wondered why my daughter had such a difficult time cleaning up, but once I witnessed the respectful act from her teacher I realized that cleaning up was never the issue. The issue was me failing to respect my daughter’s play and to offer a timely warning to help my daughter mentally prepare herself to transition from one adult command to the next. And it works for more than just clean-up. I make it a point to always offer my daughter a “respectful warning” when we’re transitioning from one activity to the next. It’s easier this way for both of us!