Friday, January 9, 2009

In Search of the Clean Bedroom

A group of parenting educators was having a discussion the other day on the topic of kids cleaning their bedrooms. All five professionals agreed that this parenting struggle is probably the most common issue raised by parents. What is the big deal about children cleaning their personal corner of the world that irks parents? What are some strategies for getting kids to maintain a presentable living space without creating a battleground in the home? For many parents, the issue of cleaning bedrooms is a matter of their expectations around cleanliness and order. What parents don’t always realize is that kids don’t have the same definition of what makes a room “clean”. “Go clean your room” is a command that has a wide range of interpretations. A suggestion might be to demonstrate or show the child with a picture of a clean room what it is you expect their room to look like when they are done. Sometimes parental expectations are too high for a child depending on the child’s age or stage of development. For example, a four year-old does not have the motor skills to make a bed as well as an adult, so parents need to adjust their expectations accordingly. In some families, cleaning bedrooms is a power and control issue. Kids are good at knowing what pushes parents’ buttons, so children who are strong-willed will often drag out the process or fail to complete the task at all. This can lead to nagging, yelling, and all kinds of chaos. This kind of interaction only serves to exacerbate the problem. Rather than nagging, say it once, making sure your instructions are clear, and let the rest to the child. Children generally do well when they are given some control over a situation. Parents can work with their child on deciding on a good time to clean bedrooms. Perhaps right after school is not a good time since many children like some downtime after a full day of classes. Find a time that you can both agree on, then stick to it. Consider a “family chore time” where everyone is engaged in the upkeep of the household. It is much easier to get started on something that everyone else is doing. A great strategy that puts kids in the driver’s seat is the “when/then” approach. You can tell your child, “When you are finished cleaning your room, then you can watch the football game (or go on the computer, etc.)”. This puts the child in control; however, the parent needs to be consistent and follow through. If the room is not clean, then the child should not be granted the privilege. Many children become overwhelmed by the thought of cleaning their bedrooms. A week’s worth of disarray can be daunting. Breaking the overall task into small, achievable steps can help. Instead of telling the child to “clean your room” parents might say. “Please go put all your dirty laundry in the hamper.” After that, a parent might instruct. “Now put all your clean clothes in your drawers.” One way to keep the clutter from piling up is to build in a daily straightening up routine. Regular maintenance means less work on cleaning day. Some parents simply have had to lower their expectations of children when it comes to the condition of their bedrooms. For some, it is acceptable that the room be in livable condition, free of dishes, trash, and strange odors. Finding the right balance between what you can live with and what you must have your child do without hassle is the key. There is no right or wrong to this one expect for constant battling and nagging which does not build a strong parent-child relationship. As one educator said, “When all else fails, close the bedroom door!”

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