In the list of battles between you and your kids (the “Eat Your Peas War” of 2012, the “No You Can’t Have a Pet Snake Standoff” of early 2013), the one you’re waging this summer seems the most intense — let’s call it, “Please, Please Clean Up Your Room Before I Lose My Mind.”
If how to get your kids to clean is becoming the defining conversation in your home, take heart: These five ideas can help you find a solution that doesn’t involve giving in to their messy ways or chucking their toys in the trash.
Idea 1: Let them help choose storage solutions
The biggest reason kids don’t clean? They get frustrated and overwhelmed when they don’t know where to put things. Give your kids a say — storage solutions don’t have to be boring and grownup. Let them choose a basket for their blocks or the bookcase they want. Not only will this nip the “I don’t know where to put it” issue in the bud, but it gives your child a sense of pride and ownership over where they store their toys.
Idea 2: Set a clean-up time
Though they rarely admit it, kids like schedules and boundaries. Surprise them with a cleaning request in the middle of a game of dress-up? Guaranteed meltdown. Try setting aside a half-hour at the end of the day and calling it “clean up time” and you’re much more likely to not only avoid a tantrum, but to make it an expected part of the daily schedule (imagine hearing, “Mom, you skipped Clean Up Time!”).
Try to keep it at the same time every day and don’t schedule it too late in the evening. Prime time? The hour right before or right after dinner.
Idea 3: Make it a game
There’s a reason why preschools use “The Clean-up Song” to get kids motivated. Children are more likely to accomplish an activity if it’s fun. Turn cleaning into a game (who can put their toys away the fastest) or make it fun by adding a kid-friendly, booty-shakin’ soundtrack.
Idea 4: Track their progress
What kid doesn’t love a reward? You can set up a cleaning chart with a list of daily responsibilities (make the bed, hang up clothes, put away books). At the end of the day give your kid a gold star for each one completed. If she receives gold stars in every task for an entire week, she gets a reward.
Skip the material prizes and bestow something that gives him a sense of pride. Let him be the one who gets to choose the family movie on Friday night, or take her out for a special one-on-one adventure.
Idea Five: Establish consequences
No one likes to dole out punishments, but if your kids aren’t cleaning, it’s time to set up some consequences. Remember to be clear and consistent: You want this to be a lesson in responsibility and a way for them to learn how to respect their personal items, not just a random punishment. With consistency, your kids will learn how to clean up after themselves from their earliest years (although–fair warning–they may well lapse when they’re teenagers).