It's a scientific fact that kids leave chaos in their wake -- so convincing kids to clean their rooms may seem like a futile battle. Yet believe it or not, there are ways to teach your young'uns to pick up that jumble of toys, clothes, and other unidentified objects without having to constantly hound them or do it yourself.
- Make it a game. "Name a specific goal, like gathering dirty clothes or toys, and set a time limit," suggests Meg Roberts, president of cleaning service MollyMaid.com. "If kids complete the task in time, they earn a treat like a 15-minute extension on bed time or family game night." For added excitement, use a timer, and display the best times to beat on a board of champions. Or get even more creative by role-playing -- i.e., pretend you're Cinderella's mean stepmother. "It's kind of fun to yell 'Clean the floors!' and watch my daughter really do it with with a smile on her face," says lifestyle coach Desha Peacock, founder of SweetSpotStyle.com.
- Create a routine. "Chores work best when they have to be executed in the same way, at the same time, with the same frequency," says Mark Loewen, a parenting coach in Richmond, Virginia. "Establishing 15 minutes to pick up the room before bed time or right after coming home for school makes it predictable and helps the your child remember."
- Set clear expectations. "A 'clean room' can mean different things to different people," points out Loewen. So make a list of what you want to see once the room is clean -- i.e., dirty clothes in the hamper, no dirty dishes in the room, etc. For some children, it is helpful to have a list on a board, so they can check off each one.
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- Set light rewards and consequences. For instance, a room that was not picked up by the agreed time means 30 minutes earlier bed time or less screen time for that day. "Don't go overboard, since a little nudge often does the trick and avoids power struggles," says Loewen. "If your child kept a clean room without needing reminders from you for a week, celebrate! An extra reward may be in order."
- Or tie a clean room to an allowance. "The rule is if you don't do your jobs, you lose money," explains Dana Obleman, author of Kids: The Manual. "This means that some weeks my kids don't get their full allowance. They're kids, they're still learning, and they don't always get it right. But they understand that their money is earned. And they are motivated to get all of their chores done, including cleaning their rooms!"
- Keep track of cleaning chores with a chart. "By using a chore chart, kids get a clear, visible, and digestible way to understand their roles and responsibilities," says Roberts. "Give them stickers to let them decorate their chart and make it their own."
- Keep the toys to a minimum. It's simple: The more toys to clean up, the more overwhelming the mess is -- plus, no kid plays with that many toys at any one point. "Try keeping under 10 toys out at once," says Stacy Erickson, founder of HomeKeyOrganization.com. "Rotate them out if you can't part with them."
- Avoid over-sorting. "Unless your child is really into organization and sorting, keep the amount of containers low," says Erickson. "For example, it looks cool for a minute when Legos are sorted by color, but keeping it up can be really overwhelming, especially for a kid. At age 2, to expect a child to pick up more than five toys at a time is unrealistic. If your 8-year-old's room stresses you out so much you can't be in it, chances are that it's also beyond their level of stress and development. Have reasonable expectations."
- Teach them how to do it. When you think about it, "go clean your room" can be a pretty vague request. "Instead give direct information, like, 'All the clothes are on the floor. They go in the hamper,'" says Erickson. "Clean alongside them and model how to do it appropriately."
- Bundle chores. Bundle common activities together and give them names. For instance, your "evening routine" includes tidying their room and getting their clothes and backpacks ready for the next day. "Giving the activities a name and a bundled concept helped them finally not feel overwhelmed by a long list of things to do," explains Wendy Overton, a professional organizer at Creative Fire Labs.
How do you get your kids to clean their rooms?
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