My children are 10 and 12, and their rooms are always a mess. We battle every weekend, when I try to get them to do a big clean up. What can I do to avoid these power struggles?
Children make messes. They move from one activity or outfit to another, rarely considering that by returning whatever they were playing with or wearing to its shelf or drawer, they could easily keep their rooms clean. "Later" becomes their motto, meaning their rooms can quickly turn into disaster areas.
Here's my advice:
• Don't lecture. Let's start by facing facts: many children are completely oblivious to the chaos in their rooms. This means that all the lectures in the world about how they should want their rooms to be neat will fall on deaf ears. While you may have a problem with their messy rooms, they don't. Give up on trying to convince your kids that they should care more about their rooms than they actually do. While it's perfectly fine for you to want things to look nice, you will only frustrate yourself if you try to convince your children that they have a problem they don't believe they have.
• Make it fun. Most children shut down when faced with what feels to be an unnecessary and overwhelming task. I remember times when I would sit down in the middle of my messy room and cry when I was told to clean it up. Put on lively music and invite your kids to boogie while they tidy up. Create a contest over filling the trash bag or laundry hamper. Pretend you're the Queen of Hibbyjibbyland, and they are preparing their rooms for a royal visit. By lightening the mood, you'll help them switch their brains on to cooperate in tackling the clean up job.
• Chunk it down. Most kids are more willing to do something unpleasant when they know they only have to do it for a short burst of time. Instead of having your children do marathon cleanups on the weekend, try creating a routine of cleaning up for six minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
• Set clear expectations. Come alongside your kids with a specific request, rather than at them with criticism. "Kids, I know you don't mind having crumpled up papers on the floor or toys hiding under your bed, but that doesn't work for me. Three times a week, we're going to each spend six minutes tidying up. Here is a list of what that includes: Putting laundry in the hamper, running the vacuum, picking up toys from under the bed."
• Go on a "stuff" diet. Some children simply have more toys, books and clothes than they can manage. If your kids' rooms are overflowing, consider rotating what is on their shelves and in their closet, swapping toys and t-shirts every couple of weeks so they have less to put away. A side benefit to this is that the things that were stored elsewhere for a little while will be more appealing when they reappear in their rooms for their rotation.
• Appreciate cooperation. When your children do comply with your request to tidy up, offer your appreciation. We all are more motivated when our efforts are acknowledged. "Thanks, guys, for pitching in with so much energy. Your rooms look so much nicer; it's a real pleasure to come visit you now!"
• Allow frustration. Your kids may complain about having to do a job that they feel is a waste of their precious time. Avoid lecturing and simply acknowledge -- without drama, fanfare or lectures -- that they would rather be playing.
It is important that children learn to manage the mundane tasks of life. These tips should help you avoid those power struggles and have a tidier house!
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