Toys strewn everywhere, clothing dumped on the floor, a bed that’s disappeared under a zoo’s worth of stuffed animals… if you’re a parent, you almost certainly know the struggle of getting your child to clean his or her room — a struggle that likelier than not often ends with you tackling the job yourself. The key to winning the battle is teaching your children how to do the job themselves — after all, habits formed in childhood (both good and bad) are the likeliest to stick for a lifetime. Here are seven tips for helping your children learn the joy of a bedroom that works for them, not against them.
Start Them Young
If you wait until your child is a teen, good luck trying to instill the neat-and-tidy habit. The teen years can be difficult enough without creating unnecessary battles. Instead, you need to start when your child is still young — even as an infant. No, that doesn’t mean your 4-month old is going to pick up her own toys; but it does mean that a cheery, “Time to hang up your clean laundry!” or, “Let’s put Mr. Stuffed Horse to bed before we read Goodnight Moon” helps to get your child used to the concept that staying organized is a simple part of everyday life.
Let Them Help
You presumably expect your children to live independently one day, so don’t make the common mistake of doing too many things for your kids that they could easily handle on their own. Starting in toddlerhood, have your child help keep her bedroom tidy (as well as assist with other age-appropriate chores around the house.) Since the preschool-age set often enjoy domestic duties (there’s a reason play kitchens and small-hands-sized vacuum cleaners are so popular), you’ll likely find your child to be an eager assistant.
If your child is old enough to walk, she’s old enough to put a stuffed animal “to bed,” place blocks back in their box and carry a dirty diaper to the trash bin. Older kids can make the bed, put games back on the shelf, hang up their coat, and set folded clothing into the appropriate dresser drawers.
Provide the Right Tools
You can’t expect a child (or a teen, for that matter) to keep their room organized if they lack the tools to get the job done. Make it easy for your young child to tidy up by stocking their bedroom with several of the following:
- A large toy box
- Open shelves with baskets or boxes to hold small toys and craft supplies
- A hanging closet organizer for assembling the week’s outfits
- Underbed storage boxes
- A hanging net to hold stuffed animals
- Hooks for jackets, backpacks, and hats
Labels Make It Easy
A hand-held labeler is your friend when your kids are young. Use it to produce labels for dresser drawers (tee-shirts, pajamas, socks, etc.), plastic storage boxes (crayons, art supplies, Hot Wheels, Legos), shelves (board games, books, science kits), and anything else you deem necessary. If your child doesn’t read yet, use taped or glued-on pictures instead of words. Either way, now your child has a clear reminder of what goes where making it much easier to return everything to its proper place at the end of the day.
A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
Habits develop through consistent behavior. If you teach your child that everything in his bedroom has its own proper place, and needs to be returned to that place after each use, tidying up will eventually become second nature. That’s why it’s important to be clear and consistent; simply telling a child to “clean up your room” is overwhelming. Asking a child to tidy up when that child already knows where his things ought to go makes it an easy (and quick) task.
Know Your Child
Different kids learn in different ways, of course, and all children have their own unique personalities. That’s why even siblings can behave quite differently. So you’ll need to tailor your expectations and directions to each of your children, keeping in mind their ages, capabilities, and personalities. Maybe Anne needs very clear directions and your nearby presence to tackle that mound of laundry, but Alex prefers to do it on his own. Both methods are fine as long as the end result is the same: a bedroom that is neat and organized.
Model Good Behavior
It’s unreasonable to expect your child to keep her bedroom clean if your own room looks like a disaster zone. Children — especially very young children — learn mostly through observation and imitation. So set the example of the habits you want to instill. Put your laundry away when it comes out of the dryer, not days later. Hang up your bathrobe; don’t leave it draped over the foot of the bed. Make it a habit to return the dish from your late-night snack to the kitchen first thing in the morning, and get rid of those stacks of already-read magazines. Not only will your bedroom benefit, but your child will learn that being a grownup means taking care of one’s possessions and carrying out chores in a timely manner: two good life lessons that carry far beyond the bedroom.