With spring here, room-cleaning appears to be on everyone’s minds but our children’s, so this week let me dust-off a few tips on getting your children to clean up their rooms or any other area of your home without making a mess of the situation.

First, it is best if you teach your children to clean up starting when they’re toddlers.  Initially, you should make it fun or even make a game of it such as “let’s see who can put the most blocks in the toy bin or books onto the book shelf.” This creates a daily routine that can and should continue as your child gets older.

To insure an ongoing daily clean-up routine, here are some other key tips:

  1. Plan the clean up just before an activity your child will truly enjoy, such as going outside, so that it serves as an incentive to get the work done.
  2. Never surprise your child with an unexpected request to clean up at a time they are not used to.
  3. As your child gets older, give them a choice of chores to make them feel more in control of the situation
  4. Partner with them if need be in doing those chores so you can have a nice meaningful conversation with your child as you work on the room together.
  5. Never expect their clean up to be perfect and be sure to praise your child for doing a reasonably good job or at least attempting to clean up.
  6. If your child will not clean up his or her room, set up a “Saturday Box.”
    What’s a Saturday box?  It’s a box, suitcase, or trunk that comes out each weeknight in which you place anything left lying around that should have been put away earlier that day. When Saturday comes (or a week from Saturday if the box is needed on a Friday night), bring out the box and empty the contents onto the floor of their bedroom.  Any item your child doesn’t pick up at that point goes back in the box for another week – something most children do not want to see happen.
  7. Don’t offer financial rewards for cleaning up routine things if you want your children to understand clean up is a necessary part or expectation of your family’s home life, and not a personal financial choice on your child’s part.
  8. Set a good example as parents and keep your areas of the house clean as well or your children will not want to keep theirs in order.

Hopefully, tips like this will clean up any concerns you have the next time you want to succeed in getting your children to clean up their rooms.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the UVM Medical Center Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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