As we near bedtime, I go to the boys' room with Isaac, who is nearly 2. "It's time to pick up your toys," I say. "Let's start with your animals." I pick up the small red storage container we use to store his dinosaurs and zoo animals. "Pick up your animals and put them in here," I instruct him.
His reaction is predictable, especially if you're familiar with young children. He sees the toys, and he wants to play with them. Bedtime, schmedtime. It's playtime! And then, of course, he realizes that it is not playtime; Mom seriously wants him to pick up the toys. He feels a flood of disappointed and angry emotions, which team up with his sleepiness, and it all bursts out in the only word his limited vocabulary can come up with to describe what he's feeling:
"NOOOOOOOO!" he cries, as I demonstrate what I want him to do. I put a couple dinosaurs in the box. He grabs the other side of the box with his hands and tries desperately to pull it away, hoping to dump the toys back out and get just a few minutes of playtime.
I stand firm. "It's hard to pick up toys when you want to play. I know," I empathize. "It's time to pick up now. See the elephant over there? Put it in the box."
He has relinquished his grip on the storage bin but he is still protesting verbally. I reach over and get the elephant, making it "walk" to the box with exaggerated large movements. "Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp!" I'm providing sound effects for the elephant. "CRASH!" as it lands on the other animals in the box.
The tears have stopped, and there is a smile. There he is. Now he's with me.
"Can you find the giraffe?" I ask. He does. "Put it in the box." He does. We do the same thing with several other animals; I name one for him to find, then he finds it and puts it away. Soon we are done with the animals, but now there are cars. We approach the cars similarly, looking for red ones, yellow ones, motorcycles. Then we move on to putting away a few larger items that go in the closet. He works hard, following every instruction I give.
When we are finished, I look around at the tidy room and smile. "Look, your room is all clean!" I say. He nods his head in agreement. "You did it!" I say. He beams.