No need to pull your hair out anymore at the mess your preschooler leaves in your house after playtime. Find out how you can get your little mess-maker to help clean up.
When playtime is over at my house, it’s like 2 mini-tornadoes have passed through.
There are toys scattered everywhere, Lego blocks hiding in corners like silent foot assassins, and toy dinosaurs stuffed into the most unlikely of places, such as my handbag.
My sons — aged 2 and 4 years-old — sometimes clean up when asked to. But it is a difficult task getting them to do so, especially the younger one.
So how exactly do you make preschoolers clean up?
We’ve found a formula that you can even consider to be a magic spell — and it’s all got to do with language and the words you use!
It’s really a simple solution!
It’s all about the words you use, according to new research. You just need to change the way you talk about helping!
According to a study published in the journal Child Development, the way you speak to your child and the language you use can have a huge impact on your child’s willingness to help out at home.
Researchers divided 150 kids into groups. The first group was told about helping using this phrase: “Some children are helpers,” i.e. the word ‘help’ was used as a noun.
To the 2nd group, the idea of helping was presented using verbs or action words: “Some children choose to help.”
The 3rd group did not hear any talk at all about helping.
In the next part of the experiment, kids were allowed to play. During playtime, researchers created several opportunities for the kids to help out:
- Put away toys
- Open a container
- Clean a mess
- Pick up spilled crayons
SO WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
The results were quite impressive. Kids who had heard about helping described as a noun (“some children are helpers”) were 29% more likely to help out than kids who heard helping described as a verb (“some children choose to help”).
In fact, kids who heard about helping as a verb didn’t help any more than kids who weren’t talked to about helping at all.
According to Dr Christopher Bryan, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of California:
“What we’re finding is that this small difference can have a substantial effect on how helpful kids choose to be when being asked to do mundane chores…”
Magic in language
Dr Bryan thinks this subtle change in language that was used in the experiment is connected with a child’s identity. So when you use nouns such as “helper” you are encouraging the child to see himself as someone “good.” According to Dr Bryan:
“People of all ages care about being a good person and being a good person means behaving like a good person. So when you frame behaviors as being representative of who you are, people will use those opportunities to show they are a good person.”
While you may think it’s difficult for a preschooler to have a definite understanding of the concept “good,” research shows that preschoolers do have a sense of self and an idea of their own “goodness.”
Where to draw the line?
While you may want to try this language trick on your own kids (I think I will on mine!), Dr Bryan also advices parents not to take it too far, as it could backfire.
This is because a child’s sense of identity is quite fragile, so it’s important you encourage them and use language subtleties to encourage the effort they put into something, and not talent.
Existing research, for example, found that kids who were talked to about “being a good drawer” versus “drawing” were more likely to avoid drawing after they experienced failure.
What both studies show is that the language we use when speaking to our kids can be a powerful tool in encouraging or discouraging them from doing something — including cleaning up!
So the next time you feel like barking out that order to your child, “Help clean up RIGHT NOW, or else…” (and you know from experience it’s not going to work!), try changing the language you use… it may actually work!
We hope you found this article interesting. What are some of the things you say or do that can make preschoolers clean up? Do share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.