Do you think a 4-year-old can make a bed? Neatly?
Now what if I told you this particular four-year old is a rambunctious boy with absolutely no innate sense of orderliness…
…and that he mastered the art of making his bed during the course of one week.
Yup. It’s true.
My now six-year-old boy mastered the art of bed making when he was four. It has become such an ingrained part of his morning that all we have to say after he finishes wolfing down his cereal is, “time for your morning routine!” and he bolts upstairs and hops to it.
Here’s how we helped him develop that keystone habit.
Day 1: Get the Lay of the Land.
On the Monday I decided to start my little delegation project, I simply wanted to see how my son would approach the problem of making his bed. I stood back and observed, offering encouragement and praise. The results were hysterical: the “made” bed was a rumpled, dumpy mess. But he was so darn proud of himself! It took a lot of willpower on my part (I’m a neurotic bed maker) but I left it a mess all day and was sure to brag to all the grown-ups I saw that he now made his own bed. He beamed every time I mentioned it. Total time spent making his bed: about 10 minutes (when he’s not sure of how to do something, he has a tendency to space out and/or get distracted).
Day 2: Focus on Biggest Area of Improvement.
On this day, instead of standing back and just letting him do it all by himself without any direction, I showed him how to find the top of the sheet and pull it up to the head of his bed and then how to do the same with his comforter. Then we both crawled in his bed and pretended to sleep so that it would get messed up again and he could re-make it on his own. He got it about 30% right. I repeated the praise all day and also set up a little sticker chart that we hung on his door. Total time making his bed: 7 minutes.
Day 3: Encourage with Direction.
By day 3, he was really getting the hang of it. But he was also open to suggestions on how to do it better. When he pulled up the sheet I asked him if he saw any wrinkles. He answered, “yes” and showed me where they were. I asked him if he knew how to get them out. He tried a few different things, none of which worked. I asked him if he would like me to show him. He nodded his head and his eyes lit up when a simple tug on the side made the wrinkles disappear. I messed it up and let him try it. He beamed when he was able to make the fix. This time, when he was done, the bed looked about 60% right. We did a little victory dance and put a sticker on his chart. Total time making his bed: 7 minutes.
Day 4: Encourage with Direction.
Day 4 was similar to day 3, but we focused on how to get lumps out of the comforter by pulling it in different directions. The bed looked pretty well made by the time he was done and got his sticker. Total time making his bed: 5 minutes.
Day 5: Pass the Baton
He was able to make his bed very well all by himself and didn’t really want any help. It looked about 70% right by the time he was done. Victory dance. Sticker. Total time spent: 5 minutes.
For the next few weeks I kept the sticker chart going to ensure it became a habit. In addition, I made sure to offer one bit of constructive feedback per week on how he could make it even better.
But that’s really it. He’s been making his bed ever since. The only time he doesn’t is when he’s sick.
I was surprised it didn’t take longer or a great deal more effort on my part. It never ceases to amaze me how humans of all ages eagerly master new things given the magic combination of encouragement and instruction.