“Is your room clean?”
Ah, the age old question that leads to tantrums or to miraculously finding lost library books the day before they are due, or maybe unearthing dishes from the carpet and discovering the matching sock you thought the dryer sucked away. Often, when we cleaned our son’s room, we would discover empty candy wrappers we never knew were once filled. We once found a cooking thermometer in his toy chest. While we were hard at work, he would inevitably become distracted by a long lost relic he never knew was missing. Sure it was nice, but the mysterious reappearance of lost items over and over again waged war on my patience.
When our son was five, I snapped. I probably traumatized him when I took EVERYTHING out of his room and placed it in our living room. I brought him back into his room to witness the reverent chore of cleaning and organizing his room. Vowing never to do this again for him, I resolved to teach him how to clean his room and how to keep it clean. Eight years later, his answer to this question is always, “Yes! It’s always clean.”
After that dramatic cleaning day, remembering my vow, I slowly began our transformation. I would clean the majority of his room, leaving one area for him to complete while I supervised (likely in the same amount of time it took me to clean the entire room, it took him to put away 5 books). But I left an area of his room for him to handle independently. I praised him when he finished and high five’d him for not complaining. The next time, I left him two areas to be cleaned, later, three areas, and eventually he cleaned the entire room himself.
Because our son has ADHD, we taught him to work in shifts. First put away the Legos. Take a break. Go back and put the books on the bookshelf, take another break. Then go back and pick up your dirty clothes. Break. Next, tidy your dresser. Finally, get a snack (reward or desired activity). Voila!
Here are 3 steps we took to help teach our son how to clean his room, independently (and keep it clean!):
1. Together, we developed a list of what needed to be done. (Books on bookshelf, toys in appropriate bins, clothes folded and put away or place in laundry hamper, etc.)
2. We shared our expectation and a visual aid of when and to the extent his room was to be clean (at our house it is every night an hour prior to bed time–just in case it took an hour to clean it).
3. We made sure he has appropriate storage bins for everything and showed him where they go. If there isn’t a place for it, it probably doesn’t belong in his room. This also helped him prioritize.