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Power Struggles with a Young Child? Try a Song

Having a song for certain tasks can really help kids get into the rhythm of their work. Here are some suggestions.

Last week I wrote about the benefits of having kids do chores in the home, along with a list of age appropriate tasks. “Beneficial.” “Age-appropriate.” It all sounds great. But on any given sleep-deprived, over-stimulated, or similarly realistic day, to get your kids to do anything at all can be work.

Cut to my 6-year old whining that her knees suddenly hurt so she can’t put away her laundry (really, her knees?), or my 2-and-a-half-year old crying to the carpet about getting herself dressed. Yes, it is indeed a glamorous life we parents lead.

I’ve talked before about how much breaking out into a sudden story can help younger kids move through such power struggles:“Did I ever tell you about the time…?” In the same way, having a song for certain tasks can really help get into the rhythm of their work.

So much of getting things done has to do with being in a regular rhythm of the thing. So if every night you sing the same song at cleanup time, it is all that much easier to get into it—it’s just what we do at this time. Also, the singing distracts and moves time along in a joyful way that makes the work less noticeable.

One of our favorite chore songs is one that goes along with the movements of folding laundry. It’s called Butterfly High and we first learned it in a parent-tot class at my daughters’ Waldorf school, The Sanderling School. It’s done with one person (adult or child) on either side of a piece of laundry that needs to be folded, say a towel, each holding two corners. As you lift the towel high in the air, you sing:

Butterfly high, butterfly low,” bring the towel down.

Wings together, we fold like so,” both step towards one another, bringing corners together as hands meet.

Then start again until the square is folded small enough.

Butterfly high, butterfly low…”

Our clean up song is another standard, when it begins, it’s almost as if our bodies just can’t resist bending to the floor to pick things up and find their home. Once again, it’s a Waldorf song, and it goes:

I saw a very dusty gnome,

Who said it’s time to clean our home.

Time for toys to take a rest,

It’s clean up time let’s do out best.

Dust, dust, dust,

Clean. Clean, clean.

Clean our home.”

At other tidying times, or when a toy needs to be put down, I borrow from a set of tones we learned in a great Music Together class when my eldest was a baby. To my untrained ear it sounds like two steps on a scale and goes, “Bum-bum.” This is the sound toys make when getting put back in their home. It’s perfect that it’s two beats, too, because your hand is usually moving from your body outward into the toy-bin, shelf, basket, etc.

For clearing the table we use the old nursery rhyme, This is the Way, but we sing: “This is the way we clear our plate.” This can be used for absolutely anything: “This is the way we brush our hair...This is the way we put on our pants, etc.”

A specific sticking point in our house has always been putting on sunblock, something we do in this day and age in Southern California constantly. So I made a special song up that helps it move along:

“Sunblock, sunblock protects us from the sun.

Sunblock, sunblock, protection everyone.

It’s the sunblock, sunblock, sun.”

That one’s silly enough for you to see that really the song can be just about anything. You can even borrow melodies from the good ol standards like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Perhaps there’s something that’s a power struggle at your place of late? Just give it a try, make up a simple line or two, add a tune and start singing it next time your child begins to balk. You may just find their amazement at you breaking into song is all it takes to get the task done. 

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