Chore Wars: Getting Kids to Clean Their Rooms

It’s a problem as old as the pyramids. No matter how you threaten them, punish them or nag them, you just can’t get your kids to clean their rooms. If we search waaaay back in our memories, I would almost bet that most of us remember having the same war with OUR parents. It almost seems to be a rite of passage. I just hope you haven’t seen the horrors I have in my daughter’s room.

That’s right, my daughter. I don’t care what anyone says. The nastiest rooms I’ve ever seen belonged to girls, not boys. Not too terribly long ago, I donned protective gear and took the plunge when I became fearful that there might be fugitives hiding out under mounds of her clothes, or colonies of ants thriving on Doritos crumbs and gummy worms. The (very) abbreviated list of items removed from her room included the following: Eight bottles containing beverages of various kinds and colors; three dinner plates accompanied by napkins and covered in crumbs and the last bites of sandwiches; one dessert plate with a partially consumed cupcake parked in the middle of it; my strapless bra; the dog’s leash (missing for two weeks); a salad bowl with a popsicle stick stuck to the bottom; and the SD card for the 35mm camera. I knew the madness had to stop, and the way to stop it had to start with me.

My daughter is brilliant, beautiful, talented, creative and has been diagnosed as Attention Deficit. What this means is that while the creative side of her thrives in the magical chaos of her bedroom, the attention deficit side of her struggles to stay focused long enough to complete a full and thorough cleaning of her space. We are fortunate to have a pediatrician who is also diagnosed as Attention Deficit. He’s a wonderful resource, and the tips he’s shared with me have been SO helpful. They’re great tips for all kids really, not just those diagnosed as Attention Deficit.

Controlling the Clutter

First, define what you mean when you say “clean your room.” Too often kids don’t know exactly what our expectations are. Give them a list that clearly details what you expect. Is it enough for them to make their bed, clear the floor of all toys and clothes, and remove all plates and glasses? Or do you expect them to dust their dressers and vacuum the floor as well? Obviously your expectations will vary depending on the age and maturity level of your child. But by giving them a list of tasks they can check off as they’re completed, you give them a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment, and that can be pretty motivating.

Getting Little Kids to Clean Their Rooms

Smaller children benefit from having fewer things that need to be contained and managed. Make a concerted effort to relocate all but their favorite items from their bedroom. Then organize what’s left:

  • The most accessible form of storage is an inexpensive shelving unit. The dollar store is a good place to start.
  • Open-front bins come in lots of fun colors and can be placed on shelves to house toys and stuffed animals.
  • Avoid using toy boxes or large baskets. They take up valuable floor space, and children often end up emptying the entire box to find that one favorite stuffed animal at the bottom … and then don’t bother putting all the other toys away.
  • Hooks are easy to install and great for hanging up bathrobes and jackets. Remember to install the shelves and hooks at a lower level so smaller kids can easily access them.
  • Children under the age of 9 can benefit from having an adult check in with them periodically during the process. Words of praise or a high-five can go a long way toward helping them stay focused and motivated.

Getting Tweens to Clean Their Rooms

Tweens are another story. They tend to have more possessions and be involved in more activities. Which means more STUFF. That, and they’re starting to establish some independence and view their bedroom as their personal space. While you certainly expect them to follow the house rules and keep a clean room, try to adjust your expectations a bit to accomodate their need for privacy. Keep these things in mind:

  • Encourage them to remove items from their space that are no longer age-appropriate. Remind them that the less they have, the less there is to maintain.
  • Designate areas of the room for specific activities – studying, getting dressed for school, listening to music, playing video games, etc. Place the appropriate storage systems in those areas too.
  • Shelves are, again, a great tool for organization. Designate specific shelves for specific items; no video games on the shelf for books, no makeup anywhere but the vanity area.
  • Require them to get rid of clothes they may have tired of, or outgrown, before buying new clothes. This is a great way to maintain control and also helps reduce the likelihood that you will open their bedroom door and be greeted by a mountain of dirty clothes.
  • Teens also benefit greatly from positive reinforcement. Remember to congratulate them on a job well done. Also, include them in organizational decisions, and let them weigh in on the shelving and any furniture you may select. If they like it, they’re more likely to keep it clean.

The kid who always keeps a clean room is a rarely-sighted creature believed to be a myth by most parents. Basically the kid equivalent of Bigfoot. And if you have a kid that does this, please don’t tell the rest of us about it. We just want to enjoy that fact that we’ve finally gotten ours to put their dirty clothes in a hamper, rather than shove them under the bed.

All of us fighting this battle should celebrate the small victories: a made bed two or three days a week, the absence of dirty dishes on a bedside table, or makeup contained on a vanity. Oh, and take comfort in the fact that in all likelihood, each and every one of our messy kids will still grow up to maintain a home that never ends up with a condemned notice on the front porch.

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