7 Steps to Actually Teaching Kids to Clean Their Own Bedrooms
Let’s face it: sometimes you feel more like “the maid” than “the mom”. And while you want your kids to pick up after themselves, it feels pretty dang overwhelming most days when you are just trying to keep everyone alive. You’re tired and pressed for time so it’s faster to do it all yourself.
But seriously, teaching a child to clean up doesn’t have to be complicated and time consuming. By taking some simple steps now to teach your children to clean their own room, you can teach responsibility and save yourself loads of time and energy.
Teaching a Child to Clean: Start young
If a child can play with toys and make a mess, a child is capable of learning to clean up.
Children truly are amazing little sponges. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly my 4 kids pick stuff up. Their little brains are incredible at picking up patterns and following them. If you teach them that you will always clean up their messes, they’ll learn that quickly. But if you teach them that they need to clean up after themselves, they’ll do it.
Steps to Teach a Child to Clean Their Bedroom
1) Organize child’s room so that it’s easy for your child to clean up.
Before you really dig into teaching your child to clean their room, you want to make sure it’s organized properly. Take a good long look at your child’s bedroom and ask yourself:
- Does everything have a clear place?
- Is it easily accessible?
- Is the organization uncomplicated?
- How can I change the room to make it easier for my child to clean?
Organize your room so that it’s easy for your child to know where everything goes and it’s easy to put everything away.
Taping images on boxes, bins, and drawers can be very helpful in teaching kids where everything goes. I do this with my kid’s drawers and it has been a game-changer.
To say my girls love clothes is a major understatement. Without exageration, it’s perfidy normal for any one of my 3 kids who dress themselves to change their clothes anywhere from 5-10 times a day on any given day. So clothing mess has been a formidable issue for us from the moment these girls started dressing themselves.
One day a few years ago, completely frustrated by the daily deluge of clothes on the bedroom floor, I snapped. I got some 3 x 5 notecards and drew pictures of the clothing items that go in each drawer and taped them on each of my children’s drawers.
It was nothing short of miraculous what happened. With a bit of direction, my clothes-loving girls actually started to put everything away in the correct place. If you don’t feel like drawing, I created a free printable of both boy and girl clothes drawer labels (you can download the labels by scrolling to the bottom of this post).
2) Clean along side your child, giving very specific instructions with lots of encouragement and praise.
Children are very visual and physical learners. Not only do we need to tell them what to do, we need to show them and lovingly guide them. While you model the correct behavior, explain to your child what you are doing and invite them to help giving very specific instructions.
- “Can you put the OBJECT in this PLACE? You did it! That was so helpful!”
- “This is where we put the OBJECTS. Can you put that right in here? You are such a great helper. I love it!”
As you child learns, you can move away from the very specific directions to “Can you put all the dirty clothes in this basket?” as opposed to “can you put that shirt in the dirty clothes basket?”
3) Set a routine for when you clean
Children crave routines that they can expect and predict. This is certainly true when teaching a child to clean. If you are consistent in your cleaning routine, not only will your children respond better, but–knowing that clean up is imminent–they will begin to clean before you ask them. Making it a routine they can expect will reduce the battles.
Since every home runs differently, this may look different to everyone. For some, it may be that you clean a room up completely before you leave it. That hasn’t worked well for us.
For us, the evenings seem to be the most effective time to clean. As part of their bedtime wind-down routine, the girls know that they are expected to have their room clean in order to get a story and a song every night (and they’d sooner cut off their own toe than miss the story and song). As it’s become more routine for them, they have become quick and efficient little cleaners!
4) Keep it positive and encouraging
The quickest way to sabotage a child’s attitude and the mood in your home is to be moody and negative. Be it potty training, school work, or what have you, when we start to get irritated and snarky with our kids, they will respond the same way or with tears.
Always give encouragement and praise for their efforts when teaching a child to clean. Praise and positivity go a really long way in helping to motivate a child. Helping them see how helpful they are and that what they do makes a difference will completely change their behavior.
A phrase we use (from parenting expert Dr. Becky Bailey) that has brought about miraculous attitude and behavior changes is:
“You (what your child did), so (the results). That was so helpful!”
- “You cleaned up all your clothes so you can find them. That was so helpful!”
- “You put all your toys away so we won’t trip on them and your room can look nice. That was so helpful!”
I know it’s not always easy to stay positive when you are tired and overworked and the house is messy. But staying positive with kids yields magical results. When I am super positive and complimentary, my 4 and 5 year old can seriously make their room
5) Have consequences for failure to clean up
Natural consequences are best. Other than losing their story and a song at night, another strategy has also been very effective. We put toys that have not been picked up when they were supposed to be picked up in “toy jail”. These items go in a big clear plastic container that lives in a high shelf in my closet and my kids have to do various chores to earn their toys back.
6) Have your child clean up gradually on their own, as you give instructions
As your child becomes more and more capable, give them more responsibility.
7) Be consistent, Be consistent, Be consistent
I know it’s not easy. Mom life is super hard. We have moments where we can’t care about much more than keeping our kids alive, let alone having children who clean up after themselves. I’ve been there.
But if we are not consistent in our efforts and expectations, children will pick up that this is not important and not something they need to learn.
On the other hand, being consistent teaches our children that these expectations and responsibilities are here to stay and will be enforced.
Children’s brains are amazing at picking up patterns. If the pattern is that you won’t stay consistent, they will not comply. If the pattern is that they need to keep their room clean, they will! Stay strong, mama!
The struggle is worth it
I’m not going to lie, teaching my kids to clean up after themselves has been a struggle at times. Sometimes they have fought me vigorously and tested whether I will be consistent. But the struggle to teach a child to clean is worth it.
These days, my kids are now amazing at cleaning up their rooms. And the excitement and sense of pride they have when they show me their immaculate room absolutely makes my heart sing.
You’ve got this. Good luck, mamas!