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Clean Your Room!

by Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Kid Cooperation and Perfect Parenting

My child’s bedroom looks like it’s been put through a blender! I can’t see the carpet, and to walk through the room I have to dodge clothes, toys, and last week’s snack wrappers. My child doesn’t care, but I do. When I yell and threaten we sometimes end up with one day of cleanliness, but in no time at all, the disaster magically reappears. What can I do?

Think about it:
Every time you walk by the bedroom, the mess annoys you. You grumble and mumble until finally you reach the boiling point, and explode in anger. When you finally put your foot down, you discover that you and your child have vastly different definitions of “clean.” While you envision an immaculate and orderly room, your child may be perfectly happy as long as she can find her way to the bed without a road map. You obviously have conflicting goals. Try to find a long-term solution that works for both of you.

When the bedroom has reached the point of a national disaster, the mess is overwhelming for your child. At this point, you may have to grit your teeth and help with the initial cleanup. Use plenty of boxes, baskets, or tubs to sort your child’s clothes and belongings. Label each container clearly (socks, books, school work, etc.). What happens next is most important. Initiate a daily cleanup time to prevent the buildup of another mess. Inspect every day after cleanup time. At that point use “Grandma’s Rule”: “As soon as your room is clean you may go out to play.” This rule is also known as the “When/Then” approach, “When you have cleaned your bedroom, then you may turn on the computer.”

Sit down with your child and develop a bedroom-cleaning contract. Work together to define what constitutes a “clean room” in very specific terms: clothes in dresser and closet (either hanging or folded), books in bookcase, stuffed animals on top bunk, etc. You might even consider allowing a “messy corner” where she can toss things temporarily. Just make sure the corner is clearly sectioned off, such as a section of the closet. Once you’ve agreed on the terms for a “clean room,” choose a specific day of the week for cleaning. One schedule that works well for many families is to require a clean room Saturday prior to any activities or play time. Include a specific plan for what will happen if the room is not clean by the scheduled time. Write up the contract and have everyone sign the agreement. Post it and follow though.

Get serious:
If you’ve reached the end of your rope, and you’re really brave, pick a time when your child is away from home to do a more-than-thorough cleaning. Using baskets and shelves, neatly arrange the necessities and most favorite toys. Pack 90% of the stuff that litters the floor into small boxes. Store the boxes in the garage or attic. Display your child’s beautifully clean room and let her know she can earn back one box at a time at the end of each week that the room is kept clean. You can expect an outburst of hysterics, but stick to your guns. (If a school supply or a favorite toy is boxed by mistake, it would be okay to rescue it.)

Invest a weekend to clean and rearrange the bedroom. If possible, hang new curtains or cover the bed with a new bedspread. Pull a dresser out of the attic, or search a second-hand store for a new piece of furniture for her room. Let your child paint it however she’d like. Allow her to customize the walls with pictures or posters. Often, a fresh, new outlook like this will encourage a child to keep her “new” room neat and clean.

Transfer responsibility:
If your child is age ten or older, and a basically responsible kid, it’s okay to turn her bedroom over to her as practice for her first apartment experience. (Take a security deposit, if you feel you must.) Outline the basic rules, such as: how often the bed linens must be changed, how often the floor must be vacuumed, and what type of food is allowed in the room. Once the basic rules are agreed to, give your child the responsibility to care for her room, her way. You can pile any of her laundry or stray belongings by her door each day. Let her know that as long as the basic rules are followed, she’ll be in charge of her own room. (And if you can’t stand looking at the clutter, shut the door.)

Copyright Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

About the author:
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of several books, including
Gentle Baby Care : No-cry, No-fuss, No-worry — Essential Tips for Raising Your Baby, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Kid Cooperation (with an introduction by William Sears, MD), Perfect Parenting, as well as her latest The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers and is also president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues, and her newsletter, Parent Tips, is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest, and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. Visit Elizabeth’s web site

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