You may have heard of the parenting technique called when/ then. It’s where you encourage cooperation by engaging the front-brain with calm, helpful instructions like this: “When I am finished drying these dishes, then I’ll be able to help you with the puzzle.” (Instead of “just a second!”)

There are many variations of the when/ then: after/then, and first/ then, when/after. Here are some examples:

“After we finish reading this book, then it’s snack time.”

“First we’ll put our shoes and coat on, then it’s time to go to the park!” (This one also works really well: “Everyone with shoes on is going to the park.”)

I have discovered that when/ thens work beautifully with getting things put away! In a matter of minutes, my children manage to spread their things into every corner of our house. To save my energy and sanity, I started using when/ thens to remind them to put things away. I’m so pleased that this has turned into a nag-free way to get my kiddos to tidy up. This is what I say:

“Sure! You can play LEGO after everything on the table is put in its away spot.”

“Yes, a snack is a great idea. When your books are back on the shelf, then we’ll get something to eat.”

“You are welcome to watch Wild Kratts after your dishes are put in the dishwasher.”

I believe this strategy works because even though we have given our children a direct instruction to complete a task, there is some level of power on their part, as to when the task gets completed. I make a point of smiling and scooping my children in for hugs if they are nearby when I use a when/ then. If they do happen to get distracted and ask to watch a TV show again, I just calmly remind them that the dishes will be put away first. This also teaches our children to be aware of what “jobs” need to be complete before playtime happens.

I do have more examples of when/ thens in this article and also in my Taming Tantrums app (for iPhone & Android). If you do try this, could you please let me know what words are working for you?