Five Tricks to Limiting Chaos in Homes with Young Kids

by | Jun 15, 2018 | Parent Tips

In the fall of 2018, my husband and I will be entering a new stage in life – we will officially become empty-nesters, causing me to reflect on the past as we prepare for the future. We raised our two boys in Southern California in a small, two-bedroom condo – the best financial choice for our family – because it gave us more work flexibility and disposable income. Don’t get me wrong, the financial benefits and the time with our family were great, but these did not help solve our storage space problem: two active boys under the age of seven who had innumerable toys, books, and laundry.  Through trial and error (and sometimes desperation), the following five tricks to limiting chaos made our small space manageable, limited the chaos, and equipped my sons with some necessary life skills too.

Trick #1 for Limiting Clutter Chaos:

Five Minute Clean-up & Catch-All Basket Combo

Despite storage tubs, directed clean-up after playtime, and other awesome organizational habits, some toy, book or sock always gets left in the living room, on the kitchen table, between the couch cushions, or under the coffee table.

Solution Part A

Place a basket just outside your children’s bedroom door and use it to quickly grab-and-drop orphaned items as you walk by throughout the day. At the end the day (see 5 Minute Clean-up Time next) your children can put away the items that have accumulated in the basket throughout the day.  No need to holler about the one missed puzzle piece or random crayon and no need to put it away yourself! Children two and up can learn independent responsibility, pride in their living space, and community awareness/service by putting away their own items and helping clean up family items.  If you don’t believe me – peek into any preschool class immediately after free play and watch how a whole classroom goes from chaos to tidy in seconds! Another really cool feature of this method – your kids will start using it to keep themselves organized.

Solution Part B

Five Minute Clean-Up Time.  At the end of EVERY day add a 5-minute clean-up session to the FAMILY routine.  Literally set the timer and go! Small children might need help at first finding items to put away but they will soon become pros. This can an opportunity for tired parents to clean sinks, toilets, countertops, and floorboards while the kids focus on emptying the Catch-All Basket and cleaning their room. Over time, your kids become more mindful of cleanliness, and they will even start doing the dirty work! As they get older, introduce the vacuum, dusting, and laundry (BONUS!).

Trick #2 for Limiting Chaos at Bedtime:

The Magic of Window Markers and Independent Accountability

What parent of small children doesn’t wish that their children put on their PJs and brushed their teeth while dinner was cleaned up? How many parents have dared to send their 3 and 6-year-olds into the bathroom to brush their teeth unsupervised?  Let me guess: giggles, shrieks, arguments, and water everywhere? How can you solve this in a fun way? Use window or dry erase markers to create a prompt and incentive to get their stuff done. First, doodle a picture frame on the mirror over the sink (helping little ones line-up with the sink). For each child, draw a chart that lists Monday-Sunday in a column with two checkboxes next to each day, one for morning and the other for the night. The picture frames can be each child’s favorite color or the chart could have their name on top. Add a column for each kid. Every morning and night after your child(ren) brushes their teeth they get to use the marker and check off the box!   At the end of each week, the kids have a little messy fun wiping the mirror clean and a new chart gets added. You can add incentives for completed charts if needed. My sons loved writing on the mirror and eventually took over wiping the chart clean and drawing their own new charts. This method could be used on any glass or mirror and it could be a great option for a closet bedroom mirror for other reminder charts.  Don’t forget, pictures of the task can be just as effective for non-readers. Better yet, encourage reading development by pairing your doodles with words.

Trick #3 for Limiting Chaos with Siblings:

Together & Time In (Not Separate & Time Out)

All siblings will squabble, fuss, and fight.  Don’t shortcut your children’s social skills development and don’t become a constant, nagging referee.  Siblings are not just for teaching about sharing. When my boys began to become short with one another, started arguing about every tiny thing, and/or just simply became rude – I did not SEPARATE them and put them in time out.  Don’t forget that in our tiny condo the boys shared a room, my husband had an office in our bedroom, and our living room was connected to the kitchen. Plus I don’t think you should be able to treat people terribly because you don’t want to share or be patient and so you get your way by being put in “Time Out” in a room full of toys (without said people).  Hmmm… something is definitely wrong with that scenario. Instead – when my boys started to fuss at each other over and over again about ridiculous things, I would declare “Brother Time” for a set amount of minutes.  I would identify the behavior that was not acceptable and then they would be sent to their room together to play board or card games together (no technology), each taking turns choosing the game. If declared Brother Time was 20 minutes then the timer only began when the first game began and the clock only kept ticking if I could hear the following from them as I worked (or took a breather) in the living room: polite words, encouragement, positive conversation, good sportsmanship, etc.  If they began to snap at each other, refused to participate, pout etc. the timer stopped. A few extra tips:  Brother Time was never declared if only one child was picking at another (little brother tried this a few times because he LOVED Brother Time.)  Brother Time was only declared when both boys just could not get out of a funk and they were essentially using me to referee their Tattle Tale Bowl for entertainment.    Unexpected bonus:  Many times after the time was up, they kept playing together, wanting to finish a game or to get a chance to play the game of their choice. Roll forward several years:  my sons are now two young men that have developed patience for others, know how to share space with others, don’t expect the world to cater to their mood, and are able to treat others with civility even when they don’t feel like it.  All essential skills to surviving living in the dorms at college with roommates!

Trick #4 for Limiting Chaos: Ban large toy boxes and replace with the Modular Method

Please don’t report me to the Mommy League, but I don’t like large, catch-all toy boxes. Simply put, tossing things into a single box does not develop organizational skills or mindfulness about taking care of our things.  Other challenges: kids only play with a few toys on top, top-heavy toddlers can fall in, and complimentary toy parts always seem to get separated. Large toy boxes are great for storing bigger toys or one type of toy group like building bricks, stuffed animals, or costumes, but not so great to store a variety of mixed toys. Instead of a large toy box(es), I purchased various sizes and shapes of clear storage tubs that fit the need for the particular toy group.  For example, the flat rectangular bins made for seasonal garments are perfect for puzzles and slide nicely under the bed!  Milk crates placed on their side make accessible book storage and allow you to group books by type and reading level by color. Board books went into the yellow crate, chapter books went into the orange crate, and floppy coloring books into a flat shallow garment bin. Over-the-door shoe bags were perfect for art supplies. Extra bonus: clear pockets look fun when filled with colorful markers, crayons, safe scissors, rulers, pipe cleaners, glue sticks, etc.  In addition, special art supplies, or those for older children, can be placed in the high pockets out of reach of little ones. Duffle bags are great for costumes, stuffed animals, and even action figures. With all these smaller tubs and containers, how can you make sure everything goes in its proper place after play time? The key to the modular method is…wait for it…timed release!  Certain toys and toy tubs were always accessible. (E.g. Books.) Other toy tubs were available by permission only.  At certain times of the day, I would pull out the puzzle tub and maybe the building blocks. The boys would play for a period of time and then before moving on to something else, everything had to be packed up into the tub and returned.  The tubs were also great for moving from room to room or to and from grandmas house. Tubs are also great for keeping things fresh!  When your kids lose interests in a particular group of toys, it is time to rotate that tub to the back of the closet and bring back one that they haven’t seen in a while. If restricting your child’s toy choices makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself – do you allow them to only eat only their favorite food items for all meals? Of course not. In the same way, variety and balance in your child’s play activities is just as important as variety and moderation in their nutrition.  One builds bodies, the other builds skills.

Trick #5 for Limiting Chaos by Being Pro-Active:

For Stay-At-Home Moms – Plan Your Day & Your Week 

Being a stay-at-home mom is an awesome privilege, but if you are not careful you can slip into mom burnout from constantly reacting to the chaos of structureless days.  To avoid this, set up a routine for each day and each week. Be sure to utilize any and all of the free parks and trails in your area. Rotate the park visits as well. On Wednesdays, we would go to the “Dolphin “ park and on Fridays, we would walk to the “Train” park.  Plan and rotate your indoor activities as well, if you want your children to nap, be sure to plan a quiet activity just before nap time. My kids and many others do not rest well if soon after any form of technology or screen time. Don’t forget to get messy! Yes, plan on messy opportunities.  At least once a week play with slime, cook together, play in the dirt, cover everything in plastic wrap and finger paint. Once a week visit the library for a special event and to check out books. Once a month plan a goofy theme day. The theme could be a color, animal, letter of the alphabet, or hobby.  Involve your kids in planning the day, go grocery shopping for “Blue Day” and look for ways to eat blue. Add a blue art project, dress in blue, watch a video about the coral reef, the options are endless and your kids will get more and more creative each month. That being said, it’s also important to not overschedule your kids and remain flexible so your kids learn to be resilient. Life can throw curveballs without notice, and our kids need to be prepared for that. With my kids, I literally planned a no-plan day once a week – this day was left open for possibilities, and gave my kids the needed rest from constant scheduling.

Every new parent is told to treasure each moment because time flies.  In a blink of an eye the precious infant in your arms has grown into a young adult, spending more time away from home, until eventually the dreaded day comes when you “child” says to you during a visit, “Well I better be headed home now, Mom.” Hopefully the tricks above will help calm the chaos and allow you to spend more time enjoying your children while they are in your home.  Use the tricks above and you will have more time to walk along side of your children as they grow and discover the world, instead of following along behind cleaning up!  

Featured Pro:  Stephanie Rhoades

19 years experience teaching preschool through kindergarten

limiting chaos

Pro-Tip #1:

Clean & Freeze Game

The “Clean & Freeze” game helps keep my pre-kindergarten room clean and preserves my sanity and you can duplicate it at home.  Play a 2-minute song and tell the kids their toys must be cleaned up before it’s over. Pause the song periodically and tell the kids to freeze. During the freeze, call out encouragements about how well someone is working. The song keeps the fun and energy up, the freeze component removes the need to yell over the noise, and as the song gets closer to the end, the sense of urgency grows. Before you know it, the room is clean and the kids are proud of their work and have learned that cleaning up can be fun. If items are placed in the wrong container or location, pull them out, place them somewhere specific and ask if someone can help find the items rightful home. If items are not put away in the allotted time, place those toys on a “time-out” shelf and they are not to be played with for a week. If a child never wants to help clean-up and it is a pervasive problem of choice, not ability, that child must stay and clean-up a designated area or number of toys before moving onto the next activity (even if other have already moved on).

limiting chaos

Pro-Tip #2:

Limiting Options to Encourage Growth

All of us naturally gravitate towards some activities and away from others. Children as young as two-year old will shy away from activities that are unfamiliar and/or challenging.  By limiting play options, we can encourage broader development in our children and build the confidence and resilience they will need later in life. Play exploration is a perfect area to introduce small challenges. For example, if your child is currently obsessed with building blocks, they will choose to play with blocks when given the choice, but this only reinforces their current preferences and areas of strength. However, if puzzles and coloring are the only two available options for a given play session, then your child will be forced to explore and eventually become more successful at those activities.  This also allows your child to connect to more children socially, in a variety of settings (parties, school, play dates) because they are willing try new things and join in all types of play and activities.

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