Getting Your Children to Tidy Their Rooms
By: Dr. Noel Swanson
This is a common problem faced by parents. It is the main cause of many a fight and argument that lead to frustration. Here are some tips to handle this:
Typically, the child’s room is overflowing with things, and there is not enough space in the cupboards and drawers. So, the first thing to do is to provide more space for their stuff, which may appear useless to you but is very precious for them. You might have to invest in additional shelves, boxes under the bed, or chests of drawers.
It is best to have enough storage space so that there is still some room for more. It will help the child to find what he is looking for easily without scattering everything across the floor. Moreover, kid stuff goes on adding everyday. If there is enough space then the new things will also find a place rather than keep lying around.
Once you have done your part of the job, and provided enough storage space, explain your method of tidying the room, and ask for suggestions from your child. Every child is different. Some children are very neat and tidy by nature, but the majority of them are not. And, children have their own idea of tidiness, which may not coincide with yours. You can’t expect them to keep their room spotless every single minute of every day. They have to play with their things, after all. Just set some rules about a reasonable standard of tidiness, and make sure you take their views on it. Also, decide how often that should be achieved.
Remember, your goal should be to teach your children how to responsibly look after their belongings. That their untidiness upsets you is your problem. You will have to allow them to fail at times and face the consequences of that. In other words, you may have to put up with their untidiness for a bit longer.
So, once you have established reasonably expectations - eg, that they put things away before bed, or once a week they do a big tidy-up, then it is time to draw up some kind of contract.
In this you should spell out the consequences for success and failure. Give clear indications of what the rewards or punishments would be.
Again, the focus should be on rewards not punishments. Give them earned privileges based on achieving the goal. You may want to combine them with a chart system connected to other chores.
Of course, you can use some punishments for failure also, but they must be logical consequences, and not out of proportion with the crime. Many parents find the "black bag" technique quite effective. This is a simple exercise of picking up anything still lying on the floor at 1pm on Saturday and putting it into a big black bag. This bag will be thrown into the attic, basement or garage for a week. This bag can be ‘earned’ back if the tidy goal is achieved next Saturday or it will be thrown into the basement and finally into the garbage. But most children learn the lesson much before that happens because they run out of toys.
The secret of success of this exercise is in remaining calm and firm. Avoid shouting or other punishments. Just go at the appointed time and collect the offending articles.
Do this a couple of times and most children will get the message and tidy up before you get there with the black bag!
There may be times when you are expecting visitors and you need your child’s room. This is your need and out of the contract. So, remember that this is extra to your original contract, so it would be only fair to offer an additional incentive for them to tidy up. Be grateful that they are doing you a favor by lending their room to you.