"Clean Your Room!"
It has become the anthem and one of the central symbols of parent-child conflicts. Children need their own territory, a place to store their clothes and toys and to go to when they need time alone. However, responsibility for that space is not something that all children handle equally well. You may even have a child who likes their room, protects their territory, and just won't pick anything up.
Though it may seem minor at first, a child's dirty bedroom can quickly become a parent's worst nightmare. Not only is it difficult to get around or find anything, but too many clothes, toys, and possibly lost snacks on the floor can make your child's room more susceptible to things like mold or insect life. Not to mention the agonizing pain of accidentally stepping on a lego.
But what can you do if your child seems resolute against picking up their things? That's exactly what we're here to talk about today: how to get your kids to clean up after themselves in the bedroom.
Allow Them Territory and Teach Decision Making Skills
The two biggest barriers for children learning to (and accepting the need to) clean their bedrooms are territory and decision making. Children often leave items, especially clothing, on the floor as an unconscious way of marking their territory. Being forced to pick up can feel like losing territory.
In addition, a very messy room requires a lot of tiny decisions to clean up, something that may seem overwhelming to a child. Getting started on a big task is hard but working on the cleaning one step at a time will eventually result in a near-spotless bedroom.
Provide Distinct Sorting Receptacles
The first step is to make sure your child has easily accessible baskets or cubbies to sort their things into. Often, children can feel overwhelmed when there are too many steps involved in cleaning up. Provide your child with a few basic places to sort things into and worry about artistic shelf arrangements later. To start with, you'll need a hamper, a toy box, and probably a few specific boxes or cube-storage bins for specific toy sorting like dolls vs legos. These can help your child make quick and easy cleaning decisions which can break down the getting-started barrier.
When you're tired and frustrated about the dirty room, it can be tempting to simply tell your child to clean it all and not bother you. However, a bedroom that's been getting dirty for days is difficult for a child to imagine getting clean in a reasonable amount of time. Instead, start small with one task at a time.
Let your child know that your first goal is just to "see the floor" or the next applicable equivalent. The best place to start is usually with laundry. Challenge your child to find all the pieces of laundry and put them in the hamper, Make it a scavenger hunt and pretty soon, the carpet will become at least partially visible.
Especially for smaller and more resistant children, don't make them feel like they have to do this big cleaning task all by themselves. On the other hand, you also don't want to give your child the impression that refusing to clean will cause you to simply do it for them. Instead, pick one place on the floor to sit and begin working with them. You might, for instance, pick something up and ask your child where it goes, then hand it to them to put away. This way, you're picking up, but they're learning valuable cleaning lessons.
It might also work for you to split up tasks, as long as your child is doing the 'hard part' by making the cleaning decisions. For example, you could ask your child to give each of you an assignment. If they start picking up all the toy cars, you'll pick up the legos. If they fish everything out from under the bed, the two of you can sort it all together.
Become a Cleaning Conductor
The next stage is to step back all together. Get a chair and sit just inside or outside the doorway, depending on what works for your home and begin working with your child as the only one moving. Let them know that today, you'll be the eyes and they'll be the hands. This put forth teamwork even though your child will be doing all the work of keeping their bedroom in order.
You are essentially here to make the decision-making easier and keep your child on track. Start by asking them to hunt down and hamper all the laundry. Next, pick a type of toy and make sure your child knows which box to put it in. As each task is complete, praise your child, and direct them to the next task. Soon, the room will be clean and your child is learning how to do it themselves.
Hand Out Rewards, Not Punishments
When your child is ready to clean their bedroom on their own and take some responsibility for it, be careful how you enforce the clean room rules. Many children become hostile, resentful, and resistant all over again if you try to force the issue by leveling threats. Try to avoid statements like "If you don't clean your room, you can't go to Scouts today" and other things that may seem like overwhelming punishment.
Instead, focus on rewarding your child for having a clean room and set up future rewards to incentivize. Rather than taking away, offer your children something concrete they understand the value of like "If your room is clean before we leave for Scouts, we'll stop for Ice Cream on the way home." This motivates your child to take cleaning into their own hands without setting you up as their enemy.
You might also consider rewarding in stages. If your child is struggling with cleanliness, try praising them for partial cleanliness. Then follow up with encouragement with a statement like "Wow, I can see the floor! Good job, that means it will be a lot easier to finish cleaning today."
Let Them Decorate In Other Ways
Finally, make sure there is a juicy and relevant reward when the room is finally clean enough to vacuum, do laundry, and make the bed without stepping on a single toy or little pair of shorts. One of your best options is actually to use the clean room as an opportunity to decorate with your child. Especially if you feel that the mess is related to territory, give them other ways to mark the bedroom as theirs without leaving toys and clothes all over the floor.
You might, for instance, let them pick a new set of bedding in their favorite color. A new special blanket and soft matching sheets can make a world of difference. Then consider letting them pick a new area rug, even if there's carpet in the room. The rug may accomplish what the clothes were doing before, marking the entire floor space as belonging to your child.
The battle for clean child bedrooms has been raging for decades, but it doesn't have to go on forever in your house. No matter how old your child is, it's never too late to learn how to get your kids to clean by encouraging them to clean on their own and offering rewards for keeping their room clean instead of punishments. And when their room finally achieves cleanliness, provide a final reward by allowing them to build their own territory in a way you can both enjoy.For more great tips on how to keep your family happy with their bedrooms from floor to ceiling and all through the night, contact us today!