“I can’t get Zoey to clean her room,” said Joan, mother to three-year-old Zoey.
Clean your room is an abstract idea and most three-year-olds don’t have the experience, memory or skills to clean their rooms all by themselves. Three-year-olds have attained a certain level of independence; they can walk, talk, express their opinions and are eager to do what we ask.
Sometimes we ask more than our young children can deliver.
“Clean your room” is one of those times.
Children’s bedrooms and playrooms can become zones of chaos quickly. Restoring the spaces to order can be difficult for an adult to visualize, much less our under sixes.
Here are some strategies to help your child learn what “clean up” means.
We can help by creating an environment that is orderly…a place for everything and everything in its place.
A few rules help, too.
- Only two or three toys out at a time.
- Play in a defined space, perhaps on a 2’x3’ rug that can be rolled up with other cleaning duties.
- Limit the number of toys available to choose from to around ten items.
- Baskets or bin for toys versus a toy box helps keep those playthings with pieces organized. Blocks in a laundry basket work well. Puzzles can be put on a tray to keep the pieces going astray.
Even if you have prepared and planned, messes will happen. When it is time to clean up give a five-minute warning, and set the timer. When the timer goes off, announce clearly that it is clean up time. Set the timer again for ten minutes.
Have your child work with you as you break down the tasks into manageable bits.
- First, let’s put all the blocks in the basket.
- Next, let’s put all the books on the shelf.
- Let’s make the bed. Now let’s put the stuffed animals away.
- Let’s take the dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher.
- Let’s take these dirty clothes to the laundry room.
- Let’s put these papers in the trash.
(Note: I usually save the trash and laundry for last so that items do not “accidentally” get thrown away or put in the wash.)
When the room meets your expectations, say so. “We’ve cleaned up your room. This is what a clean room looks like.” For added emphasis say, “Thank you. That was fun to clean the room.”
Review the steps it took to get the room cleaned up. You might also want to make a chart with your child with pictures that reinforce each step of the process.
My experience is that in ten minutes or less most disorganized rooms can be returned to order by an adult and a child.
Work together, have fun, and step back and appreciate your accomplishment.