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If you have more than one child, chances are you have at least one who seems really hard to motivate to clean their room. You know: the free-spirited, creative, head-in-the-clouds child who could really care less about being neat, organized and orderly.
In my house, not naming names, but one of my middle children (ok, it’s the 9-year-old) totally fits this description. She’s very bright, energetic, optimistic and is always in the middle of a big, messy project which she never feels inclined to clean up!
Her shoes, socks, coat and backpack are dropped like a breadcrumb trail from the back door all the way to the couch every afternoon. And I’m always afraid to enter her room because I don’t know what I’ll find (or step on).
If you can relate, first of all, just remember that for some people, middle child or not, an orderly space just doesn’t get their motor running, so to speak. It’s just not in their genetic code.
According to research, middle children feel less pressure to conform and they can be crafty negotiators as well.
So what does this mean if you have a messy middle? It might mean that they simply don’t care if their room is clean. They don’t feel a need to compete with naturally organized siblings. And they will work really hard to convince you to see their perspective OR they will attempt to stall until they see the cartoon smoke billowing from your ears.
And this endless cycle might make you wonder, should I even make my child clean her room? Is it worth the hassle?
To which I would answer, yes and yes! I don’t expect perfection with my kids’ rooms, but learning to tidy up your personal space is simply a life skill everyone must learn. Your child’s future college roommate, spouse or co-worker will thank you for this someday!
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How to Motivate Your Messy Middle Child to Clean Their Room
So because some children are not internally motivated to clean just for the sake of cleaning, you’re going to have to find what WILL motivate them if you don’t want to lose your mind arguing with them!
And please, don’t let them engage you in an argument. A quote that has really impacted me is this by Dr. Charles Fay: “A child who can argue with you will never respect you.” Set limits, and don’t give them that kind of power!
So what DO we do, other than just let the creativity flow and step through the bedroom landmines with extra caution?
Fortunately, I think there are specific ways we can help our child find motivation and maybe even enjoy the satisfaction of a clean bedroom, if not the work itself.
Here are some ideas that have helped our middle child to see the value of a clean space – or at least get motivated to participate in the work:
1. Be Specific
Just barking, “Go clean your room!” sounds pretty straightforward to us as adults. But to some kids, you might as well say, “Go write a dissertation!” as you watch their bewildered response.
Yeah, my tween is old enough to know what a clean room should look like, but she is FAR more motivated when I help her break it down into smaller tasks. A big mess is simply overwhelming to an already disorganized personality.
The younger the child, the more specific and involved you need to be in this process. Trust me, it gets easier over time, but they do NEED a certain amount of your help to learn how to clean well.
When her room is particularly bad, knowing her non-orderly nature, I’ll quickly assess what needs to be done in my daughter’s room and start her on just 1 or 2 small tasks. It also helps her if I write down those smaller tasks in a list so she can check them off as she goes.
2. Ask for their input.
What makes cleaning more fun? For both of my older girls, it’s music! I asked this the other day and it was a no-brainer that playing music while cleaning makes the process more enjoyable.
When assigning chores, I am also learning to ask them if there’s something they would like to change about their room to make cleaning it an easier task.
A simple toy net worked wonders in my middle daughter’s room. She loves to see her collection of stuffed animals and a step stool in the corner allows her to access it and then toss the toys back into it when it’s cleanup time.
From listening to my middle child’s feedback, I also decided on a compromise: I allow her to leave one small area in the room that might look a little “messy” to me – the project she’s currently working on such as a lego house in the works or a stuffed animal village that’s set up strategically.
As long as it’s not sprawling over the whole room for days on end, a little organized “mess” that has a creative purpose is fine by me. You’ll have to decide where to draw the line here, but I think a little compromise goes a long way in giving them a sense of control and showing that you respect the things that they value.
3. Declutter FREQUENTLY.
If you have a messy child, they may also be hoarders who collect lots and lots of things. In order to help the cleaning process along, I’ll bring in an empty box (it doesn’t have to be large) and ask her to fill that box while she’s cleaning with the things she doesn’t use or need anymore.
This is not always easy for her – but we do it so frequently that it’s become sort of a game. The obvious benefit is that it makes the room easier to clean the next time.
We have a great “stuff giveaway” that’s ongoing at our church and it helps her to know that someone else will enjoy her beloved items. (Because that would be ALL of them!)
You might be surprised that having LESS storage boxes, totes, and containers in your child’s room makes it easier to clean – IF you make a giveaway box a part of the routine. One particular storage bin that I do suggest is this type because it’s large yet lightweight and easy for kids to drag around during cleanup.
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4. Give an incentive
Hear me out: I am NOT talking about paying your child to clean their room. If you do have a paid chore system that works, though, more power to you!
My philosophy is that there are certain chores that are expected to be done by each member of the family. You do it because you’re a part of the family and we all have to contribute.
I occasionally pay for EXTRA chores that go above & beyond the regular chores. This would be something a little above their skill level – basically one of my own regular chores that would benefit the whole family and save me time as well. This allows them the chance to learn to save for things they want and manage what they earn.
The kind of incentive I’m really talking about here is some type of family activity. I’ll usually say something like, “Hey, let’s quickly get this area clean and then we’ll have time to play a board game!”
In general, the more positive you can be about their chores – and YOUR OWN – will make it feel less like a chore in the first place.
5. Set a time frame, make it a habit
Lastly, once you’ve gotten your child into the practice of tidying up (hopefully!), make it a daily habit.
You can work it into the bedtime routine: take shower, brush teeth, straighten up the room, then Bible reading until mom comes down to tuck you in. (Another checklist might help here, at least for a while.)
If you haven’t been consistent in the past with making your kids clean up after themselves, this process will take a while to catch on. Again, you WILL be more involved in the beginning but less so as the habit becomes the norm.
I’ve also found it helpful to ask them how they feel after their room is clean and point out the positives of a clean space: more room to play, they can find everything they need, and no more toys getting broken underfoot.
With the right motivation and practice, even the messiest middle child -or any child for that matter- can get on board and learn to clean their room and maybe even enjoy it just a smidge. 😉
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