Last week's trigger was the arrival of a new piano teacher. He picked his way to the piano over old crisp packets, headless dolls and bits of jigsaw, while I did my aren't-children-awful act, then, with the cheeriest smile, he announced that the room amounted to a "health hazard".
Mortified, I turned on the children later and shrieked that I was going to throw all the toys in the bin. They completely ignored me, until I turned off the television. Groans came next, followed self-righteous complaints of: "It wasn't me, it was her";. Soon discussion descended into argument: " if you don't want us to play with toys"; asked my seven-year-old, "why did you buy them?";
At that point, I made my first wise move - I stomped out and took the dog for a walk. There is no point getting involved in debates that will only escalate. When I calmed down, I rang my parenting advisers for advice on how to get the children to tidy up.
How could the children be expected to tidy up, Noel Janis-Norton said, if I ignored the mess for long periods and then, periodically, made the idea of tidying sound loathsome by exploding with annoyance? I was not being positive, firm and consistent, was I?
She suggested a middle path."The easiest way to keep a playroom tidy is not to let each child have more than five toys out at any one time. Too many toys encourage children to have short attention spans. They rush from one to the other as they do in a toy shop and never play with anything properly".