Written by Doctor G

How to get kids to clean their room (and other miracles)

This is another question from a Twitter friend (and for those of you who think that can’t happen, it absolutely can!)

How can I get my 11 yo (ADD) daughter and 5 yo son to clean their rooms? Not squeaky, just clean floors, no trash, laundry away?

Jennifer, in WA

Is it worth it to make our kids keep their rooms clean? Yes, most days. But it still often feels like trying to teach your dog to use the toilet – like you’re trying to change an animal in ways nature did not intend!

Stick to it, though, because in the big picture teaching this skill is teaching responsibility and respect and resilience all at once.
Respect: Your kids do live in your home, and in exchange for that privilege need to keep their little section of the home in a way that doesn’t make you crazy. Also they probably use and wear stuff purchased by someone else, and need to show respect for that by not losing or ruining ALL of it. Some percentage of “breakage” is inevitable.
Responsibility: We all have to know how to keep our stuff and our space neat. We don’t all have to choose to do it (as adults) but we have to understand how to do it, and that takes practice.
Resilience: Like any chore, learning to keep their room picked up each day or week or grandparent-visit helps them manage the boredom and repetition that is a part of achieving any goal.

So what do you need to make it happen? Realistic expectations. Clean floors? OK. Not eat-off-them clean but stuff picked up, OK to walk in bare feet in the dark kind of clean. Trash picked up? Yes, it’s not OK to get in trouble with the Health Department in your own house. Laundry away? Great. All of these are safe and reasonable.

What does your child need to make it happen?

1. Skills: Especially a kid challenged by ADD probably doesn’t have the skills needed to do this without a reminder. So instead of nagging (no one likes to do this and it is not all that effective), have her make a list. Put on it each thing she needs to do and how often. Make check boxes and dates so she can check off when she thinks that part is done. Put that list up on the door or wall in her room. With a pencil.

2. Tools: Do your best to remove the obstacles from her way so that she can do these things. Think like a project manager: where will all the things that are on the floor go? Is there enough room on the shelves? Does she have a laundry basket for dirty and space in her drawers/closet for clean? Is there a trash can in her room?

3. Motivation: Here is the trickiest part. Link this expectation to something important to her that happens each day. Room clean before computer time, or phone time, or friend time. For your younger child, room clean before the Legos can come out or the computer goes on, or room clean by 8, if I need to help you at 8 that will be our time in place of a bedtime story.

It would be much easier if you cleaned their room. Fewer arguments would result, and the room would look great! Unfortunately, you already know how to clean a room. Now you need to work on the MUCH harder task of teaching other, uninterested people to do it!

What have YOU done to encourage a clean bedroom?

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8 thoughts on “How to get kids to clean their room (and other miracles)”

  1. You know, I normally don’t like to ask for advice from doctors or so-called “experts”. I usually find it too generalized and can’t apply it to MY children. But you, Dr. G, have given me great, practical advice that I can actually use. Thank you!

  2. As the mother of one ADD child, I would add that specific, objective goals are crucial. Not, clean your room, but “In the next five minutes (set a timer), please throw out 20 pieces of garbage.” OR with young children, “can you pick up all the red toys by the time these five minutes are up and the timer goes off?” This works with clearing the table and everything else — “Kids, I want each of you to clear 20 items and then you may be excused.” Concrete, countable, and not going on forever.

    1. This is a great point! Tasks that seem completely doable to adults (and some kids) make other kids feel like they have been sentenced to months of solitary confinement! “Small bites” help kids (and many of us adults too) to get larger jobs done a lot more easily!

  3. it doesnt work at all my kid wont follow it because she doesnt look at it because she knows she has to clean her room her room is a mess.”this chart thing doesnt work mom” she said

    1. Exactly. For some kids the chart is a great motivator, but for many it is a wall decoration that they don’t even notice!

  4. I’m not at the clean room stage with my pre-school triplets quite yet since most of their toys are in communal areas (can’t trust them alone you see). We are just getting some traction on picking up with my neurotypical triplet. The other two, who both have autism, are slowly learning more about picking up toys and not dumping everything out. It takes discipline from the big people in the house to teach them how to pick up. It helps if we simplify things too. It’s funny, I just posted about this today myself.

    1. It’s a great point, Lisa, about how we as the adults need to be consistent and exhibit the same behaviors we want from our kids. Thanks!

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