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When They Won’t Clean Their Room

by Tiffany in parenting

When They Won't Clean Their RoomA question from reader Jess:

My husband and I are having a hard time getting our 7 year old to clean his room. His room gets so bad that I am afraid someone will kill themselves trying to walk through it. Yesterday we decided he needed to clean it but he just wouldn’t do. He kept sneaking out or he sat and played in it and didn’t clean. We resorted to yelling and then eventually to a spanking and yet he still didn’t clean his room. I also felt terrible after he got spanked and he sat in his room sobbing. But he needs to be able to clean his room on his own. What should we have done differently?

Sorry that you are having such a tough time with this issue. Here are a few ideas to help avoid this scenario in the future.

First, it sounds as though your son’s room would take a lot of time to clean if it was as bad as you described. That was probably too much for a 7 year old to handle. Not only was the thought of cleaning that room overwhelming to him he may not have the skills required yet. When my oldest son was exactly the same age he would also let his room get out of control if we let it go too long. When that happened I would go in and clean it with him, giving him jobs to do and showing him first hand how to get it clean. I didn’t worry one bit that he wouldn’t learn to clean it himself….how could he learn unless I repeatedly showed him how it was done?

Before bed each night I would also go in and do a quick once over for him…perhaps giving him one job to do…like taking his laundry downstairs or picking up his art supplies. Doing this little bit each night helped us keep it from getting too bad. Cleaning his room together allowed me to teach him how to clean and it allowed me to see what activities and art projects he was working on and discuss them with him. We both enjoyed this time spent together and now I am repeating this process with my daughter and youngest son who are 8 and 9.

For what it is worth my oldest is now 13 years old and keeps his room clean, entirely on his own. In general he is an excellent cleaner, even going so far as to wash windows and steam carpets. I truly believe that we have to model cleaning for them in THEIR environment. They may see us cleaning common areas of the household but that isn’t always sufficient. Cleaning with them and in areas useful to them (like their bedroom) is advantageous.

Next time your son’s room gets out of control get your hands dirty and clean it with him. I don’t think you are really afraid he won’t know how to clean a room as an adult if you help him as a child. So why worry about making him do it on his own? In fact, when my bedroom needs cleaned I often ask the kids to help me out or my husband and I do it together. I CAN clean it on my own but it goes much faster and it is more enjoyable if I have help. Just put yourself in your children’s shoes….if it was your room would you want to be stuck in there cleaning it all day by yourself? Probably not.

What do you think? How do you tackle this issue?

  • Kimberly Herbert

    I was that 7 year old. I didn’t know how to clean my room. I was so frustrated because they might as well have been telling me to fly to the moon. My Mom a scientist, was just so naturally organized – that she couldn’t understand my disorganized ADHD (Undiagnosed at the time) brain. My paternal grandmother did get it (of the 5 1st cousins on that side 4 of us are ADHD/Dyslexic – unusually we are all females).

    Mimmi took a timer and set me a task and set the timer for usually 5 or 10 minutes. I would do the task trying to do a good job and beat the clock. After that Mom used the same method, almost daily to help me keep organized. I still use that method. Periodically I have a friend come help me redo organization both at home and in my classroom.

    My sister (also ADHD/dysgraphic) doesn’t have the physical space problem to the extent I do. She periodically uses a similar method to help her kids get organized. 4 times a year they weed out clothes, toys that the kids have outgrown. Then she uses the timer technique each evening for the kids to put up things and get stuff ready for school the next morning.

  • Heather Bayle

    Good tips. I have similar problems with my boys room. I try to keep most of the toys and stuff out of it, but they always think the room is more fun to play in when it’s clean, so they bring the toys back in. Doh! PS. We have the same car rug. :)

  • Jennifer Van Huss

    Great discussion! That is the tool I use with my sons. I make them tidy up every day so that it isn’t such a big mess!

  • In The Know Mom

    Great tips — I too have a 7 year old and she doesn’t enjoy cleaning her room. I have definitely found as well that you cannot let the room get overwhelming or a “go clean your room” will result in a meltdown.

  • Melissa Vera

    I agree you have to model the behavior for children to get. I love this discussion.

  • Chelsea Nicole

    Love your tips. My kids are just toddlers but even now I am teaching them to clean up.

  • Jenn

    A couple of years ago I came to this same realization about my son–yeah, he hates cleaning, but more than that he just doesn’t know how to start, and what to do. So when it does get bad, I go in and help him, and give him tips and strategies, and work them with him. Of course, the bigger problem is that he just hates it, so it’s hard to motivate him to TRY to gain the skills, but the whole delayed gratification thing will hopefully come in time…

  • Deb

    My children are grown and now having their own children. However when they were toddlers they cleaned their rooms with my assistance. Agreed, that children have no concept of “clean” or how to go about such a task. Another problem is the amount of toys parents buy their children. Just watch a few episodes of HGTV. I was a minimalist and only purchased items that had and educational or developmental function. When the children started to get fussy about putting their toys away, I decided they must have been bored. I secretly would bag up 1/2 of their toys and hide them. 3 or 4 months later I switched them out with the other toys. No matter how old they got, they always looked at the “new” switched toys as a treat and played with renewed excitement. Additionally there was conversation between us about a toy they remembered and how they played with it before.