With all the extra time that we are spending at home right now, our living spaces are probably looking rather … lived in, to put it nicely. This is probably also the case with your child’s room. Do you open the door to your child’s room and it looks like a tornado just blew through? Do you feel like a broken record, asking them to pick up their things over and over again?
If so, you aren’t alone. Getting a child to regularly clean their room can be no small feat, and this can be especially true for children with ADHD or other special needs.
We know that helping a child manage their possessions and keep their room tidy is an important life skill, but it’s also much easier said than done. To help you in your quest to keep the mess and clutter at bay, here are some tips that might motivate your child toward tidiness.
Clean As You Go
The more you let a room go, the easier it feels to just shut the door and walk away. To avoid this feeling, teach your child the importance of cleaning as they go. Encourage the habit of putting away whatever they are playing with as soon as they’re finished. And remind them they can’t get anything else out until that is put away.
Kids collect a lot of stuff. Make it a habit to go through your child’s belongings with them regularly. We all know it’s hard for children with ADHD to concentrate, and when the environment is cluttered and disorganized, that concentration can be even more of a challenge. Be sure to have your child help with this process so they can take ownership of their room and possessions. If they struggle to part with something, ask if it would be okay if you kept it in your room for a while to see if they really miss it. If they do, they can have it back. If not, then it may be time for another child to find joy in that toy.
Reward Positive Behavior
A pat on the back and word of affirmation can go a long way. Show your child you notice their efforts. If something isn’t done exactly how you would, try to not rush in and “fix” whatever may not meet your standards. This may send a message to your child that what they are doing isn’t good enough. Sticker charts, small prizes and experiences are also good incentives for children who are learning new habits.
Breakdown What You Want Done Into Small Tasks
Have you ever heard anyone ask how you eat an elephant? If so, you probably know the answer is “one bite at a time.” The same applies to cleaning. Teach your child how to break down each task. For example: 1) Make the bed 2) Put your dirty clothes in the hamper 3) Hang up your towel 4) Put away your toys in categories: stuffed animals and then LEGOS, etc. Complete one task and then move onto another.
Make a Chart
After you break down what you want done into small and manageable tasks, create a chart with those tasks so your child can see what is expected of them. After they complete a task, have them put a sticker on the chart. Or, you can use a wipe board and wipe off each task after it’s finished. Once they have completed their tasks for the week, consider an incentive, as mentioned earlier.
Some children with special needs may benefit from a visual of what the room looks like when tidy. Take pictures of the made bed, toys in their bins, or the towel hanging on the rack and hang them next to the chart. Be sure to emphasize that it doesn’t need to be done perfectly. These are just tools to help remind them of what they are trying to accomplish.
Your child may have an unrealistic idea of how much time tasks will take. Make their bed with them and set a timer so they can see it really doesn’t take that long. Show them putting clothes in the hamper only takes a second. Emphasize when you wait to do it all at once, it takes much more time than when you do it right away.
Have Simple Organization Systems
It is much easier for anyone to clean if every item has a place of its own. Bins are very easy for cleanup with children. Consider having a bin for stuffed animals, balls, baby dolls, a shelf for books, etc.
And last but not least, get your child’s input to see what’s working and what is not. Be sure to check in regularly to see if any changes need to be made in the plan you’ve set in place. And remember, these are wonderful life skills they are learning — skills that will hopefully help them in many areas of their life for lots of years to come.