For her latest Get Psyched Friday blog, psychologist Eleanor Mackey, PhD, teaches us how to inspire kids to clean their room.
If my experience with my 6-year-old and the number of patients I have seen who complain of this is any indication, “Clean your room!” is likely a phrase uttered more often than anyone would like to admit in many households. Keeping one’s room clean is likely one of the main sources of conflict between parents and children of all ages, and is a battle no one wants to fight.
From the parents’ perspective, keeping a clean room is important. It is not healthy to live among dirt, dust, dirty clothes, old food, etc. It is important to have a sense of pride in one’s space and contribute to a clean and orderly family environment. This is especially true for kids who share rooms with siblings or other family members.
From the child’s perspective, their room is their domain. It is an important place to relax, feel free, and to exercise a bit of control. When they are in their room, the last thing they want to do is to clean it. Kids and adolescents also don’t share the same concerns about orderliness as their parents often do.
With these opposing perspectives, it is no wonder that keeping a clean room is a regular war fought in many houses. Although there is no way to ensure that this won’t be a source of trouble, there are some things families can do to make this a little easier to navigate.
- Set up a clear organization system together. Kids often feel overwhelmed by the idea of cleaning up a messy room. Organize what items are in the room (books, toys, clothes, toiletries, etc.) and make a place, clearly labeled, for each type of item. Many stores have inexpensive bins for this very purpose. Kids may even enjoy helping to decorate or label these.
- Work together the first time to clean so that your child can learn an organized way of going about it. For example, show them how to pull everything out and make piles for trash, clothes, books, toys, etc. Once they have piles, they can put everything away in the bins, shelves, or drawers you have labeled.
- For younger kids, make sure to give more specific instructions than just “clean your room.” For example, for my six year old I have to tell her to “take your art supplies off the floor and table and put them in your art box.”
- Establish daily tasks that minimize the huge cleaning projects. For instance, request that they put dirty clothes in the laundry basket daily or make sure that all trash is off the floor.
- Plan a specific day of the week to clean the room and come up with that day/time in collaboration with your child to make sure it is something that works for both of you.
- Don’t forget to praise your child even for the small things they do to keep the room clean and say thank you. This goes a long way. Imagine how nice it feels (or would feel) when your family thanks you for keeping the house clean.
- Consider doing a reward system by having your child earn “points” or “stars” either for the maintenance tasks or for cleaning. Even if you feel that this should be something that is always done and not rewarded, you can save yourself a lot of difficulty by acknowledging that your child has worked hard to keep their space clean. Points could be traded for staying up a little late, choosing a family activity, or getting out of another chore, or whatever you and your child come up with together.