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This post is from the Lessons For My Son series. These posts were the genesis of this site as I wanted to collect and plan some of the things I want to teach my son as he grows up. Rather than looking back one day and wishing I’d done better job at preparing him for life, I’d like to have a guidebook to work from.

you make the mess you clean it upImage by Markus Spiske

There’s a simple rule at my house. If you make a mess, you clean it up. With a 4 year old, I’m talking about a literal MESS. Most commonly, toys left all over the house or a juice box dropped on the floor. Eventually we’ll cross over into philisophical messes such as hurting the feelings of a friend, etc.

“When you make a mess, it’s your responsibilty to clean it up”. He’s 4 so I generally help him, but not always. If it’s spilled juice, he knows how to get paper towels and wipe it up, and he knows how to pick up his toys.

For harder, jobs I expect him to start it on his own, and if he needs help, he can ask and I’ll jump in. No matter what it is, I want him to TRY to clean up the mess on his own first. Setting the expectation that he has to make the effort will hopefully serve him well later in life by teaching him to take initiative and not rely on others to take charge or get started.

That’s not a blanket rule. There are times when I know he won’t have ANY idea where or how to start. It’s then that we sit down together, frame the problem, and outline a solution. Even big messes he creates that are completely beyond his ability to rectify require his help.

make a mess clean it up

Case in point

Before he was born, my wife assigned me my first and only Pinterest project…book shelves in his room. The shelves are from IKEA, but the installation more resembled the script from Good Will Hunting or  A Beautiful Mind to make sure I didn’t have to re-drill holes a dozen times attempting to get them even and level.

Last Fall, he was in his bedroom and decided to use one of the shelves to pull himself up and ripped it right out of the wall. The anchors tore out a couple chunks of drywall. Having created some of my own issues with holes in walls as a teenager, I knew how to fix it. Why? Because MY Dad made me do the same thing.

His mess, he had to help (yes, I know, it was accident). I did the heavy lifting but he got put in charge of spackling, sanding, and painting. He didn’t fuss or argue, but went after it like a contractor-in-the-making.

When finished, he was excited to show Mom the result. He put in the work, cleaned up the mess, and took pride in a job well done. And he had fun doing it with Dad. Can’t ask for more than that.

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