Parents place a child or two and all their books, games, toys and clothes into a little room and then expect the children to keep it clean. They are asking them to manage more inventory for their age than the floor manager at a store.
One of the biggest dilemmas for parents is what to do about the child's bedroom. If you leave the care of the room totally to the child, he or she may decide not to clean it and learn to accept it as messy, which is hard on the child's self-image (not to mention future spouse or roommates). If the parent cleans the room for the child all of the time, the child will learn to like it clean, but expect someone else to do it. Neither of these attitudes is healthy. Adopt the theory that it is better to help the children organize the bedroom and periodically help clean it so they learn to like order but also gain the skills to keep it that way.
We know children like a clean bedroom because as soon as it is clean, they want to play there. Although they like the good feeling of living in a tidy atmosphere, they are too immature to organize the room so it is easy to keep clean. Adult assistance is needed to organize, teach, motivate and insist that a minimal level of cleanliness is maintained.
What About the Bed?
Check the room arrangement, keeping everything as simple as possible. What about the bed? A washable comforter which can just be pulled up is much easier to manage than the traditional bottom sheet, top sheet, blankets and bedspread. A twin bed is easier to make than a double bed. If you have enough room, pull the bed away from the wall. Bunk beds are next to impossible; plan extra adult help here.
Look for other ways to simplify the room arrangement. Lower the rod in the closet. Hooks are better than hangers for robe, coat and sweater. You will probably want a wastebasket and a clothes hamper in the room. Shoe boxes in the drawers make terrific dividers to separate socks, underwear, belts and pajamas.
Is there too much in the room? Cut down the quantity, considering the structure and physical limitations of the room. If three boys are sharing one room, it is obvious that each cannot keep as many things as could a single child. Is there some way that part of the child's belongings could be stored elsewhere? After it has been out of sight for a while, he may realize he really doesn't need it and be willing to sell it at a garage sale or give it away.
A Word of Caution
Does the child need all of those things? Caution: After children are 5 or 6, include them in throw-out decisions. Your aim is to teach good management and to help them let go of things that are no longer needed.
Watch those hobbies and collections and don't let them get out of hand. It may be necessary to re-evaluate holiday and birthday giving or have a discussion with generous grandparents.
Cutting back the inventory can simplify bedroom cleaning. As the child learns to manage a few things, it would be appropriate to increase the quota.
Create a place for everything. The 2-year-old's bedroom will look different from the seventh-grader's, and children in a room by themselves will have more flexibility than children sharing a room. If a resting spot for each thing has not been established, how can the youngster put it away? Picture or word labels are helpful reminders. Parents need to be patient with follow-up and training.
Add something new from time to time; it sparks interest. Give a new set of bed sheets or a bucket of paint. Just changing the furniture around while cleaning gives a feeling of newness and motivates the child to keep it up for awhile.
Set limits. The places you have created to place things can carry an automatic limit. A dishpan or box for school papers is a limit. When the box is full, the child goes through the papers, keeping only a few favorites. After storing things for a while, some of the initial emotional attachment is gone and it is easier for the child to discard them.
A bulletin board and knickknack shelf are limiting. When they are full, some of the papers or hobby items need to be stored.
Another important limit to consider is clothing. How often do you wash? Every other day? Once a week? Count the number of days between washings, add a couple, and that could be the limit on how many clothes are needed.
Limits also need to be set for toys. Except for large items, toy boxes are the worst storage. Games and toys with many pieces seldom get back together after being dumped in a toy box. Consider separating them into bags and/or boxes. Leave some of the playthings on the toy shelves for a week or two and then rotate them with different ones that have been kept elsewhere.
After the room has been organized, set a specific time every day to straighten the bedroom and play area, perhaps in the morning before school or TV or play, at lunch time and before bedtime to establish the pick-up habit.
Need for Parental Help
A messy room for several days signals a need for parental help in cleaning and organizing. Cleaning is a management skill of persistence that takes many more years to retire than the skill of making a mess.
There comes a time, usually during middle teens, when a child tries to prove independence, at which time the relationship is more important than a clean bedroom. Cool the subject for a time.
Learning to keep the bedroom neat can be a giant time-saving habit, redeemable throughout life. Help the child succeed by first organizing the bedroom for easy care. Then, when it is time to teach, stay friendly and flexible, and working time can be a growing time.