How can I get my kids to clean their rooms?

cleanroomOur question today is from Marcy, a mom of 3 from Austin, TX and she asks…

“How can I get my kids to clean their rooms? I feel like I’m constantly fussing at them to pick up their stuff but it’s like I’m talking to a brick wall. I don’t ask them to do a lot around here but I expect them to keep a clean room. Help!”

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The full transcript:

Welcome to ASK AMY TV where we provide simple solutions to your most frustrating discipline dilemmas. I’m Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…(Tarcher/Penguin, 2011).

Our question today is from Marcy, a mom of 3 from Austin, TX and she asks…

“How can I get my kids to clean their rooms? I feel like I’m constantly fussing at them to pick up their stuff but it’s like I’m talking to a brick wall. I don’t ask them to do a lot around here but I expect them to keep a clean room. Help!”

Marcy – believe me, I hear that question all the time. Fortunately, there are several strategies you can employ.

1. You can just let it go and let them experience the natural consequences of a messy room. They’ll quickly discover that they lose track of things as they frantically search for the game piece that’s hidden under the piles of dirty clothes. Allowing the natural consequences to play out is actually the best teacher – but I’ve found that parents have a really hard time with letting the messy room go.

2. If you fall into that category – there are other strategies you can use. You can use a WHEN-THEN routine. “WHEN your room is clean (which means I can see your entire floor and the horizontal surfaces are clear of clutter) THEN, you can have your TV time, or THEN we’ll leave or practice, or THEN you can join us for dinner.” Creating a When-Then routine in which the room must be cleaned before a more enjoyable part of the routine occurs – creates a natural incentive. If you follow a When-Then routine every single day- there’s no need to fuss or fight about it. As my mother-in-law says, it’s the law. It’s just the way we do things around here. That’s called “letting the routine be the boss” so you don’t have to be.

3. Decide what you will do. You can let your kids know… “Our family rule is that the room has to be clean by 5:00 each day. Either you can clean it or I will. But, anything that I find laying around will go into a box in the garage and be unavailable for the next week. If your son doesn’t have his uniform for practice, he’ll learn an important lesson when he explains to the coach why he’s not prepared. If you find that your kids don’t even miss the toys or clothes that you hauled out to the garage, that lets you know they probably have more than they need and it’s time for a big donation to Goodwill Industries.

What about you? What are your biggest challenges in getting your kids to pick up after themselves? Tell me about it in the comment section under this video.

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you know when a new ASK Amy video is posted.

And of course, continue posting your questions in the box at AskAmy.TV. I may pick your discipline dilemma for my next ASK AMY video.

Marcy – as a thank you for posting your question, I’m going to send you a signed copy of my new book: If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling (Tarcher/Penguin, 2011)

Thanks for joining me at Ask Amy TV and as always, I wish you parenting peace.

  1. For my two teenagers, I basically take your first approach and let them live in the mess and figure out how to find things. I have though in the past told them that they can’t have friends over until their room is clean and this has worked well too.

    The two youngest share a room and also do a lot of playing in there as well, so their bedroom can become really messy. When-then’s work with the two of them, but I have also found that it is best if I send them up to clean their room at different times because sometimes they will fight over who isn’t cleaning enough…. Sometimes their room gets so messy that they just become overwhelmed. They want to clean it, but aren’t sure where to start. If this is the case all three of us work on it together or we set a timer and do 15-30 minute clean ups each day until it gets picked up.

  2. Polly – great suggestions as always! Thank you! For everyone else – if you don’t already know about Polly’s site it is: Families With Purpose!

  3. I have tried each of these approaches and they have not worked. They don’t care if they live in a mess and they will go for days “cleaning”. I have even given dinner at 10 pm and the room still was not clean. I am ready to set dire to it. Any other suggestions. I am not physically able to do it myself and we have a bi-annual inspection coming up. Please help.

    • We have found a very affective approach for our granddaughter that gives her the “choice”. We say, “You don’t have to clean everything, only the things that you wish to keep” then we give her what we feel is a reasonable amount of time or set the timer and leave it to her. I have only one time needed to toss a couple of toys since then she knows we mean business and gets the job done on her own.

  4. It’s not easy! My daughter wouldn’t put her clean clothes away. I feel she is old enough to do this. After me asking and asking and nagging and nagging, I just stopped doing any of her washing. When she started running out of clothes, she got really upset that I wasn’t washing them, I explained that it was disrespectful of her to not put the clothes I have washed and folded away, and until she puts her clothes away I won’t be washing any.
    This seems to be working—- hold thumbs for me :)

    • Thumbs up for sure! It can be a rough lesson, but in the end everyone is happier and better off! Thanks BLuebell for sharing!

  5. With three kids it can be a battle. My 12 year old is fine. My 9 & 6 year olds are another story. I have tried rewarding them for doing what is asked and punishment for not doing what was asked. I have used when/then method. It is a fight EVERY time.

  6. Some friends of mine are having some problems getting their kids to help clean up after themselves. I’ve suggested to them that maybe their kids have more toys out at one time than they know what to do with. Cleaning up afterwards may then, as a result, be overwhelming to them. I further suggested that maybe they could sit down with their kids and help them narrow their interests down to what it is that they really want to play with and what they expect to accomplish from it. Clean up would then not be so overwhelming to them if that is in fact the issue. There two daughters are in the 3rd and 5th grade. Is this good advice? Thank you for your help Amy.

  7. I’ve tried these many times and I’m sorry but they don’t work. I have a 4 and a 6 year old, and when I was around that age, I was made to clean my room. My kids don’t care about getting grounded they don’t care about getting their things taken away or about living in a messy room. I guess I’m just going to have to keep looking for better suggestions.

    • “Frustrated” check out the blog Living Well Spending Less. She took all her kids toys away and it had an amazing result. Your kids are young enough, that it just may work for you. Hang in there!