How to Motivate Kids to Clean Up

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This article is so NOT from an expert because my kids are genetically imprinted to leave their things on every…flat…surface in the house (it’s from the paternal side). Backpack here. Sweater there. Toys and erasers and shoes everywhere! (I fear for the teen years quite frankly). However, there are some bribes, games, ultimatums er, I mean strategies for motivating kids to clean up.

motivate-kids-cleanAfter school, backpacks have to be put in the backpack spot. Jackets hung in the jacket spot. Lunch bags put in the lunch bag spot. (They put their backpacks, jackets and lunch bags in their respective places everyday at school so there is no reason to expect a parent to do it for them at home).

Nothing happens until these basics are done No snack. No fun time. No next activity. Basics first. Choose your own basics that make your everyday clean up routine and stick to the rule that these basics need your child’s attention. (The motivation? A full-stop on the day’s progress, until the basics are done, is motivation to get them over with to move on to the next activity).

Great for toddlers and pre-schoolers – singing a tidy up song can be motivational and entertaining. The best song I’ve heard is sung to the melody of London Bridge is Falling Down:

“Now’s the time to tidy up, move your butts, move your butts
Now’s the time to tidy up, MOVE YOUR BUTTS.”

Ok – not eloquent but the first time my kids heard it (at a playdate) they burst into laughter as they cleaned with their friends. TIP: Google “Tidy Up Song” for more song choices.

Timing your kids to clean is a good tool to motivate. Kids love beating the clock. A sand timer or kitchen timer work well. A minute for every year (i.e. if your child is 7 years old – put 7 minutes on the clock).

Cleaning a whole bedroom can be daunting to kids. Give them some motivation by having them choose just ONE surface to clean today (i.e. the floor, the bookshelf, the desk, etc…). The motivation? One small area to clean is easier than the whole room.

Write a series of kid cleaning jobs on individual papers and place them in a jar. Designate one day a week to the job jar. On that day, your child closes their eyes and picks a job – which they have to do no matter what – no give backs! Kid cleaning jobs can range from arranging shoes in the hallway to tidying up the toy box.

I’d love to hear your comments on how you motivate kids to clean up (really I would!). Everyone has a different way to do it but all ways should be respectful and positive (that includes no name calling. Read: No saying “You PIG!”). Cleaning up is a life skill kids need to learn. It also helps them learn decision-making, organization and priority setting. I’m no expert on kids cleaning…but I’m working on it.

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