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Part 1 – Preparation

From the time your child becomes a toddler able to pull out every toy in their room in a record amount of time until they leave home to go to college, you will fight what can become a battle you are guaranteed to lose. The clean-room battle doesn’t need to continue. Start early and use the following suggestions to make bedroom tidying not only fun, but a routine chore accomplished without yelling, stress, or interference on your part.

To guarantee success, there are a few things you need to do before you begin:

  • Prepare the room for success
  • Prepare your child for success
  • Define your expectations

Prepare Your Child’s Room

The first thing you need to do is ask yourself, and answer honestly, “Does my child really need all those toys?”

If the answer is, “No!” then it is time to purge. Start with the toys you never see your child play with and those they have outgrown. It is best to do this when your child is not present. Otherwise, each toy you consider will suddenly be their favourite that they just can’t give up. Chances are your child will not even notice missing toys.

Next, decide if some toys are seasonal or should be put away for a short period of time and pulled out later.  There are some toys you may feel your child isn’t playing with now, but may want later. Go ahead and pack these for storage.

You also may want to move some toys to a younger sibling’s room. Be careful with this one as you do not want to encourage jealously and sibling rivalry over toys. Therefore, you may want to enlist help if you think the older child is capable of assisting.

Another way to purge toys is to do so at Christmas. Have a toy wrapping party with your children and prepare to give toys that are new looking to a church or community organization for their gift-give-away. Be sure to label each toy with boy or girl and the appropriate age.

Thirdly, make it easy for your child to put things away. If book shelves are too high, the cupboard handle cannot be reached, and there are not enough storage places for everything, your child is not going to be able to tidy up their room.

Finally, get containers for their toys. Plastic see-through containers are best; you can quickly and surreptitiously check the contents. And do not limit yourself just to containers designed for toy storage. My daughter found large bins designed for holding dog food with upper-front, covered holes that are perfect as toy-storage bins. Consider plastic shoe boxes for small toys. Label each container using pictures if you child is too young to read.

Prepare You Child

If your child is old enough, get them involved in deciding what goes where and why. Their decisions may not always make sense to you, but if they decide where they want things to be, they will be more likely to put things where they belong.

Also, you need to teach your child what you mean when you say “tidy up your room” or “clean up your room.” There is a difference and your child needs to know your expectations in order to be successful. Train your child how to tidy up toys and clothes. Emphasize the importance of doing things with a routine and what that routine should be. If toys are always on top of clothes, obviously the toys should be put away first and then the clothes.

Also, show them how to dust, shake out rugs, and vacuum if they are old enough to do so. Consider buying fun cleaning tools, such as a colourful feather duster or a child-sizes broom. You can even create a special “cleaning caddy” with supplies. Just be careful with chemicals. A relatively innocuous spray furniture polish can become unsafe when accidentally sprayed in eyes.

Define Your Expectations

  • Offer rewards – Try using stickers for your toddlers, extra T.V. time for your school-age child, and a special activity or privilege for your teen.
  • Set a timer – Consider letting them choose the time to set. Or set it yourself to make sure enough gets accomplished.
  • Set some rules – Make sure your child knows your expectations and stick to them.
  • Have some consequences – Decide if there will be a consequence for a bedroom that is not cleaned up by an agreed-upon time.
  • Set a time for completion each day – This needs to be age-specific. You also need to consider your own child’s personality and what will help them establish a regular routine. Try scheduling the room tidying each day before a regularly scheduled favourite television program or each time you are going to be leaving the house.
  • Decide who helps – When children play together, they should both assume responsibility for cleaning up the room. When children visit, they should help with the clean-up. And when your children visit others, they should do the same.

Your child is not capable of doing a perfect job, so don’t expect one. You can take your cue from their reaction to their effort. If they announce they are finished, accept their assessment and address one area they missed by making suggestions before they begin to tidy up next time. Add one thing each time and their job will slowly improve to a level more in line with your desires. One of the adults with the messiest home I ever saw had to keep her room spotless as a child. Unrealistic expectations can have life-long consequences.

There is one more thing to consider. We have talked frequently about the importance of a daily routine; it provides a good night’s sleep, a daily nap, and can prevent sibling rivalry. It is also important when teaching your children how to tidy their rooms. If you establish a routine for doing so – a set method, a consistent time of day – the time will arrive when room clean-up becomes an acceptable part of their daily life. Until then, patience and consistency is required. Also, some fun ideas we will discuss in our next article.

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