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'90s FAMILY

Picking Up the Clean Habit

July 14, 1996|VALERIE J. NELSON

The experts agree that parents have an obligation to teach children about order from a young age, helping them clean up their rooms until they are about 6 years old, then slowly turning the task over to the child between the ages of 6 and 10.

When children are toddlers, cleaning skills can be imparted by verbalizing, which helps them understand the task, even though the parent does most of the work. As kids get older, and responsibility for their rooms transfers to them, parents need to have realistic expectations.

"I like the quote, 'Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy,' " Tarzana therapist Donna J. Goodman says.

One of her suggestions is to recognize the importance of routine. "If every night we clean up toys, it becomes a pattern," she says.

Other tips for coexisting with your children and their rooms:

* Communicate a cleanliness standard, such as it's clean enough when everything is off the floor.

* From an early age, make cleaning up fun. Play music to see if the floor can be picked up before the music stops.

* If a teen is rebelling through a messy room, grant independence elsewhere. Allow him or her to go to bed later or give a clothing allowance.

* Have a set of rules for the common areas of your house and another more liberal set for the children's rooms. (But no knives, nothing that smells.)

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