Should You Force Your Toddler to Clean Her Room?

Cynthia Dermody


teaching toddlers to clean up

Photo by my2luvbugs

My 4 year old daughter and I have this ongoing power struggle over her messy room. You see, my husband and I have designated every Friday night as "Clean Up Night," where we try to tackle a majority of the chores so we can all enjoy our weekend.

We're big on the kids pitching in, so their job is to pick up all their toys and tidy their rooms, among other little tasks.

And every Friday the same fight with my daughter ensues -- "Mommy, I'm too tired." "Mommy, I can't pick up my stuffed animals because my hands hurt." "Mommy I'll do it later, I promise!"

Another example of how my daughter is just so different from me. She loves princesses, I don't. She prefers clothes that are pink and frilly; I'm the queen of neutral and understated. She wants to have a tea party, I'd much rather go out and throw a baseball around.

I'm a clean freak, she's the messiest most disorganized human on the face of the earth.

I'm not joking. Getting that girl to put a stuffed animal back into a basket is like asking her to give up the last cupcake on earth. She also likes to sleep with a rotating assortment of "stuff," which means the flashlight, jewelry box, stuffed kitty, ice pack, rock, and green plastic leaf from an old Dora toy will eventually find their way under the bed, all waiting to greet me on Friday night.

I know what you're going to say ... that I'm the parent and she's the slave child and I should just make her do it. I agree! So every Friday when she refuses to help clean her room, she gets a big consequence. Last weekend it was no treats the entire weekend.

The weekend before that she couldn't play with her neighbor friend. And the week before that it was something else that I was sure would have done the trick. I'll keep working through my list of punishments, but apparently, this is something she feels very strongly about. Seems no amount of sugar withdrawal, time-outs, or fun is going to buy her surrender.

I'm jealous of Nataly Kogan of Work It Mom, whose own 4 year old daughter makes horrible messes, but always cleans up her room before bed. She definitely inherited her mother's clean freak gene, but I guess that piece of DNA skipped a generation in my family.

Nataly blogged recently about new research that found adolescents express themselves by making a mess in their room and how it's common for most to become more organized and neat as they get older.

Unless the mess is creating other significant issues — say, issues around personal hygene or not being able to get things done — the article authors suggest that parents should just let the kids do as they like and keep the mess.

++What do you think of that study -- is there any logic to it? Do you let your toddlers keep a messy room, or do you make them clean it up (I need tips, please!)?

Read More