One of the most frustrating tasks that I have encountered as a parent of a preschooler and toddler is teaching them to clean their room. For the longest time, I found myself frustrated and exasperated because I simply could not get them to clean their room. I didn’t understand why it was so hard. After all, the only things in their room were toys and the occasional piece of clothing. Over time, I figured out a few tricks to make room-cleaning little less stressful on all of us.
To me, cleaning the kids’ room seemed simple; the books go on the shelf, the toys in the box and the laundry in the basket. For a four-year-old and three-year-old, this is a lot to remember. I took digital photos of the books stacked nicely on the shelves, the toys in the box and the laundry in the basket and printed them off and laminated them with tape. I them attached the correct picture to the toy box, the laundry basket and the bookshelf and asked my children to check the picture to see which things go where. This made it more fun, but also helped them to learn the proper place for things and gave them a visual reference if they were unsure.
Give detailed directions
Most preschoolers and toddlers are capable of following simple one- and two-step directions. Telling your child “Go pick up all the laundry,” might seem direct enough, however, it can be overwhelming for them. I found that my own children did better when I was more specific, giving simple and easy-to-carry-out directions. First, I’d tell my son to put the red shirt in the laundry basket, then the jeans, and then the pajamas. Working through it step by step, rather than in one large direction was much more effective and productive.
As my children got a little older and became more independent, I could see that they were visibly irritated with me supervising their cleaning efforts, yet they weren’t yet able to get it all done without my help and direction. I started leaving their room for short periods of time. I’d ask my daughter to put the red shirt in the laundry, the blue book on the shelf, and her doll in the toybox before I got back. This was a longer set of instructions and a little harder to follow, but she loved the independence of being trusted to do it alone before mommy returned.
Don’t punish for distraction
It can be frustrating when you ask your child to perform a simple task, such as picking up their toys, only to discover them playing and ignoring your request fifteen minutes later. This is stressful, but don’t punish your child for becoming distracted. Young children are easily distracted and what’s a quick task to you, can feel as though it take ages to them. Punishing them for becoming distracted will only make them associate negative feelings with the task, making it more difficult later on.
Demonstrate positive outcomes
For a young child, it can be hard to understand why their room needs to be clean, especially if it will just get messy again. It’s important to demonstrate the positive impact of completing the chore. Don’t reward your child with candy or treats, but instead, spend time with them and make sure they know that they did a good job. For example, “Thank you so much for cleaning your room, Maddi! Because you were such a big helper and cleaned your room all by yourself, we have time to do something fun together! Would you like to play a game with me?” This will help your child to recognize the positive contribution that their efforts have on their own life and reinforce a positive relationship.
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