Advice on How to Get Your Child to Clean Their Room
Parent-Child Communication

Advice on How to Get Your Child to Clean Their Room

Seems like a simple task, and yet, somehow it isn’t.

The problem:

Kids do not know where to start and their definition of “clean” can vary significantly from yours. So, while your child looks at the room and sees a clean floor, clothes in the hamper, the comforter on the bed, books “in” the bookshelf, and toys pushed to the side of the room (or stuffed in the closet), you see toys still on the floor (or busting out of the closet), a messy bookshelf, and an unmade bed.

Some potential solutions:

  • If your child is overwhelmed by the amount of cleaning to do and does not know where to begin, give them some pointers. List out a sequence of events. You could say, “Okay, let’s start with the easiest part: making the bed. Then all of the books in the book shelf need to be vertical with the title facing out. Then the toys…” and so on.
  • You can help, but, as you know, you do not want to do it for them and set a precedent. Remind them that you will expect him to remember how to do this next time. (Note: They will probably not completely remember how to do it next time. It takes practice. Next time, you can still give those reminders to start with the bed and what that looks like, but try to supervise instead of help).
  • If the two of you disagree on what “clean” means, provide your child with clear expectations of what it means to “clean your room”. Perhaps she simply does not understand what a clean room looks like. Use positive language so she knows what to do instead of what not to do (Branstetter, 2014, 90). For instance, for a bed to be ‘made’, it needs the sheets to be smooth, tucked in, pulled all the way up, and folded back slightly over the comforter. The comforter needs…” (As opposed to, “This bed is not made.”) Use the same clear language for each task.
  • If your child has already “cleaned” her room and you disagree, insisting that she clean it to meet your expectations will most likely result in a battle where she refuses to “do it again” or cries over the unfairness of it all. Instead of battling, explain what a clean room means to you and move on. Next time, before she cleans their room, remind her of those expectations.
  • Psychologist Rebecca Branstetter (2014) recommends having and communicating valid reasons for your expectations. For instance, if there are toy trucks on the ground, someone could hurt their ankle by stepping on it. If the room is unsafe, friends cannot come over and play (nor should you be playing in there!). If you cannot think of a good reason to make the bed every day (I certainly can’t and don’t), perhaps you should pick a different battle.
  • If your child thinks this is “so unfair”, redirect his attention to the good feelings they will have as soon as he is finished instead of the negative current feelings, as discussed in more detail in Why Does My Kid Put Off Chores?
  • If it turns into a battle, let the situation cool down. Bring it up later that evening using the following steps:
    • Empathize: “I understand you were upset about cleaning your room.”
    • Ask how they felt and paraphrase their response back to them to show you understand: “I understand that it is frustrating to have to clean your room when you want to play with your friends. Playing is so much more fun.”
    • Address the inappropriate behavior: “It is okay to feel frustrated. It is not okay to yell, to storm off, to throw temper tantrums… Next time you feel frustrated, what can you do instead? Can we think of another way to respond the next time I ask you to clean your room?”

Branstetter, R. (2014). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder. Adams Media: Massachusetts.

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