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The Three "C's" of Diminishing Household Chaos

Stephanie thought she was going to lose her mind. She just couldn't seem to keep things under control with her 5 year old twin boys and 8 year old daughter. From the moment they got up on the morning until they went to sleep at night it was one argument after another: who got to choose where to sit at breakfast, which TV show they were going to watch, who would be first in the bathroom, and so on. Just when she'd get one argument sorted out, another would erupt.

This kind of in-fighting is common in households with multiple children. In a bid for mom or dad's attention and an attempt to prove they're more powerful than one another, kids often pick fights attempting to "one-up" each other. Because each day is filled with numerous small tasks and simple privileges, the opportunities for fighting are virtually endless! But even in single kid households, things can often feel chaotic as the single child struggles for power with the adult(s) in the home.

The good news is that parents in single or multi-kid homes can regain some semblance of control by going "back to basics" and honoring the three "C's" of diminishing chaos: communication, clarity and consistency.

In brief, communication refers to making sure you as the parent have been "heard" amidst the chaos. In general, the louder and angrier you are, the less your children listen. Remember the old trick teachers would use in the classroom? They'd turn off the lights and whisper to get the class's attention. Communicating your wishes to your children usually means "toning down", not up.

Clarity is also important. Children are more likely to hear short, concrete statements instead of lectures: for example: "John gets to go first today, tomorrow it's your turn", rather than "Why do you always have to fight? You know you'll get your chance to go first tomorrow. I can't believe we can't even have one day's worth of peace in the household!"

Finally, consistency refers to your ability to maintain focus in the midst of the chaos. Not so easy to do, I admit! Still, sometimes simply having a plan that you can refer back to will help you send consistent messages to your children.

One way to maintain a consistent plan that also communicates your message and is clear is to create a chart with and for your child(ren). I'm not referring to a star chart or reward system, but rather to a chart that clearly explains house rules, or whose turn it is to go first, along with the consequences of breaking those rules or commitments. Here's how it works, in each specific case:

The House Rules Chart - Sit down with your child(ren) and explain that you're going to come up with some house rules and that you need their help. These rules will refer to how you should treat one another, how long it should take to accomplish assigned chores, when homework should be done, etc. etc. Make a list of the rules that you come up with together on the left hand side of the chart, then draw a line vertically down the middle of the posterboard. Ask the kid(s) what they think should be the consequence in each case if they break a rule, then list each consequence across from the rule to which it refers. By posting this chart in a common area of the apartment, you can be clear in your communication when a rule gets broken: "John, house rule number two... you know the consequence." Even if children cannot read yet and you have to verbalize the rule and consequence each time, having it written down consistently communicates that you're serious.

The "First" Chart -- In the case of kids who just always have to be first, I suggest having a calendar, with squares dated Monday - Sunday posted prominently. Each child gets a specific day on a rotating basis to be "first" - in everything. For example, if Suzie's "first day's" are Mon., Wed. And Fri., then she gets to choose where she sits at the table those days, she has the privilege of being first in the bathroom, of pressing the elevator button, etc. John, having the alternate days of Tues., Thurs. and Sat. has "first" privileges on those days. And what about Sunday? That's your day to choose - after all, parents have rights too!

These charts can be as creative as you wish. Just remember that "clarity" is one of the "three C's" - and it applies to charts as well as words. If your chart gets too detailed, with too many words and too many rules, your children will not respond to it any better than they did to your verbal communication.

Another way to clarify your requests to your child(ren) - at least those involving time - is to use an egg timer. I found the best to be the kind where you turn the dial to the correct number of minutes and it makes a ticking sound as it moves. A timer allows you to say, "I'd like you to be dressed in five minutes, or you won't have time to watch TV before school," and provides a concrete visual "picture" of how much time five minutes is. Even older children get distracted by toys, computers, or books in their rooms while they're supposed to be accomplishing a task or chore, so a timer can communicate your message consistently and clearly every time to a variety of ages.

As the chaos begins to diminish in your home, don't forget the power of encouragement. Simple words of praise and gratitude go a long way to solidifying you child's new and more acceptable behaviors.