Teaching Responsibility to Kids – Clean Your Room!

Teaching Responsibility to Kids – Clean Your Room!

Getting your child to clean their room can be a nightmare! Teaching responsibility to your kids can be a challenge sometimes. Most parents share in the exhaustion that comes with constantly picking up after their child. When they become old enough, it only feels right that their kids begin to help! In this blog, I will share how you can teach responsibility, and create healthy habits, through cleaning their room. Below are some tips on how to do this effectively!

Breaking Down the Task

Oftentimes, kids find it difficult to clean their room because it feels like an impossible task. Kids get overwhelmed with how much there is to do.  Like many of us tend to do, they avoid doing it altogether. One of the most successful ways to help your kid clean their room is to break down the cleaning process for them. This can be done by setting small, weekly goals.

For example, the goal of the first week may be to bring down their dishes every day by 8:00 PM. Or, the goal may be for them to pick all their clothes up off the floor by Sunday afternoon. When we tell a child that they have to pick up everything off of their floor, that may be too big of a task. Whereas, if we start with one item (clothes) in one area (the floor) this is much more doable for them.  When they do not feel overwhelmed, they are more capable of completing the task.

I know some parents may be thinking, “That will take forever, that goal is too small, they should be able to do that by now!” Although you may very well be right, if the goal isn’t small and attainable, it will not get accomplished. When the goal is complete, then you set the next goal. This helps them build up to cleaning the entire room. If you had a goal of running a marathon, you would build up your endurance by running weekly, or daily, and increasing your distance each time. In the same sense, kids need to build up their habits in learning how to be more responsible.

Incentives and Positive Reinforcement

Another helpful component is providing them with an incentive if/when they complete their weekly goal. An example of this can be, “If you take your dishes down by 8:00 PM every day this week, I will take you out to lunch on Sunday to a place of your choosing.” Along with this, every time your child completes the expected task, it is extremely important to praise this. Positive reinforcement, i.e. acknowledging and validating when your child does something positive/that you wanted them to do, helps increase motivation and self-esteem; therefore ensuring that they will continue to work on this task or goal. This can be as simple as thanking them when they bring the dishes down, or saying “good job.” 

Teaching Responsibility through Consequences

For parents who do not want to set an incentive in place, it’s helpful to inform them of the consequences if they do not complete the goal. This is not the same as a punishment! As your children are learning to form new habits, they will not do it correctly 100% of the time. Punishing them for not being perfect will end up decreasing their motivation, and ensuring that the goal will not be accomplished.  Rather than taking something away from them, it’s helpful to share that they cannot have or do until the task is complete. This gives them a chance to earn what they want through being more responsible.

For example, if they didn’t take their dishes down Wednesday or Thursday, but they want to go to Panera with their friends after school on Friday, you inform them that until the task is complete, they will not be allowed to go to Panera. It’s important to give them a chance to correct their mistake to help them learn how to be more responsible. If they do not have an opportunity to fix their mistake, they may not care to do the task at all because their incentive (going out with their friends) has already been taken away.

Working with Them

Additionally, in the beginning when teaching responsibility to your child, it can be effective to clean with them. Often children do not know how to clean, or clean properly, and therefore you may still end up disappointed after they’ve “cleaned” their room to their standards. If you can spend time with them, showing them how to clean, it helps them feel less overwhelmed, and also may create a bonding experience. You are modeling how to be responsible to them and giving them knowledge that may help them feel more capable and competent. When the expectations for your child are clear to them, they’re more likely to accomplish the task at hand.

This may also give you an opportunity (depending on your child’s age) to make a fun game out of cleaning- which will definitely increase their motivation! This does not look like cleaning for your child while they watch. Rather, it looks like you showing them where to put something away using one toy as an example, and asking them to do the rest. Or, showing them how to dust on one small surface, and having them dust the other surfaces; while you provide positive feedback and reinforcement!

Teaching Responsibility Requires Patience

Overall, helping your child become more responsible is a task that takes time and patience, but it’s worth it in the end! It’s important to help break down the process for them, by creating small, weekly goals. Assist them throughout this time if necessary, and provide them with positive reinforcement as they complete their tasks. When they’ve reached their goal, add on the next one to help create a routine/habit. Remind them how proud you are of their progress, and that you know they’re capable of completing the next goal as well! Include incentives to help increase their motivation, or consequences where you give them an opportunity to fix their mistake and earn what they want.

Remember that change takes time and patience. It’s okay for them to not accomplish their goal. Discuss with them what they can do differently to accomplish it the next time around. Keep their motivation flowing, help decrease their feelings of being overwhelmed, and remind them that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you work on fixing them!

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