His room had gotten past the point of acceptable mess.
Yes, there is an acceptable level of mess for my six-year-old.
“While I’m cooking dinner, you need to work on cleaning up your room. I’ll set the timer. See how much you can get done in ten minutes, okay?”
He didn’t look particularly excited about it, but he nodded his head. I said, “Ready…set…go!” And then I pressed Start on the timer and went about my dinner preparations.
When the timer rang out, I called out that his time was up. He came around the corner of the kitchen with a look on his face that I know very well. He was afraid he was about to get in trouble.
“What’s up? Did you get a lot picked up?” I kept my voice calm and level. Whatever was wrong wouldn’t be that bad.
He burst into tears and threw himself to the ground.
“What happened? Did you get anything cleaned? Or were you in there just playing?” Again, calm and level. It’s been a good day; I had no plans on ruining that. Even if he did spend the time playing, he can get his room picked up after dinner. No big deal.
He shook his head. No. “I just stuffed things in the corners.” Tears spilled from his eyes as he stared at the ground, ready for his punishment.
“Alright. Well, dinner will be ready in a few minutes. How about you go pick up 5 things that are blue, and one thing that starts with each letter of your first name? By the time you finish that, we’ll be ready to eat. Then you can pick up a little bit more after dinner.”
“Okay.” He mumbled as he walked away, hiccuping through the sobs that were starting to calm down.
Later, I asked him if he knew why I wasn’t upset about him not cleaning up when he was supposed to. He shook his head. No.
“I didn’t get upset, because you came and told me the truth. You didn’t lie, and you didn’t make me discover the piles of stuff on my own. You told me the truth. It’s pretty hard to be upset at that.”
The truth from my kid, and zero overreaction from me? I consider this a win.