Clean Your Room! Tips for parents of special needs children
Do you cringe when telling your child to clean their room? Just getting my boys to think about cleaning their room is a chore in itself! We all know what happens next...the whining, the crying, the denial that it is even messy. My boys both have special needs, so cleaning is not their specialty. Looking at my boys' room gives me nightmares that my house is going to turn into one of those homes shown on the Hoarders TV show. Even though I "make" them clean their room fairly regularly, they just can't seem to do a very good job. They get frustrated, distracted, or overwhelmed having to make decisions that for most of us would be second nature. When enough is enough, and I can't stand looking at the mess anymore I declare war, and the three of us clean it together. Through these many floor-finding expeditions, I have learned a few tricks that help make the process easier for them, and the results last longer.
Techniques that work!
1. Plan room-cleaning time to be when your child's concentration level is at it's peak, and they can actually feel effective. My boys both have ADHD, so I choose a time when their meds are working the best. Even if your child does not have attention problems, picking a time of the day that works for them will give you the best results. I have also found that putting the boys on a daily schedule where time is allotted for doing a chore (such as room cleaning) helps cut down on the daily fight with mom about how unfair it is to clean up their own mess. The psychology is that the schedule says it's chore time, not mom, thus mom just becomes the enforcer of the all-powerful schedule. Most kids like routine so this works in my favor.
2. Split up siblings! My boys fight over whose toy is whose and where it should go, and who should be responsible for doing what in the room. To avoid all of this nonsense and arguing, I split them up. Each boy has to "clean" the room for 15 minutes alone, without the other one in the room. I tell them that I will come check on their progress after 15 minutes, and that they have to impress me with the amount of work they have done. If I am not impressed (if it doesn't look like they've done 15 min. of work) then they have to work for 5 minutes longer, and I will check again. When the first child has "impressed" me, it is the second child's turn. Since this technique allows each child to get a break, they can take turns cleaning for a couple hours (if necessary) until the room is completely clean. This concept really works when you have two kids in one room because they like the idea that if mom approves of the amount of work they have done, it will then be the other sibling's turn to work on the room. It also stops the fighting over every single item, and the child doing the cleaning can make decisions uninterrupted.
3. Break a huge mess into manageable tasks. Developmentally it is hard for kids to break a big chore into chunks. They see the big picture and get overwhelmed by how much there is to do, rather than being able to think about what they can do first and second and so on. I play to each child's strength when possible. My younger son is good at putting away the clothes, so I assign him to sorting dirty from clean, and putting the clean ones away. When assigned this chore, he has to also put his brother's clothes away. My older son is good at putting away toys and games, so I assign him that chore. If he finds his brother's toys, he has to put them away too. When these tasks are done I move on to assigning things like straightening the bookshelf, picking up any garbage, and vacuuming.
4. Give each child a specific box/bin just for "their" stuff. The fight over whose is what in the room is never ending, but each boy having one bin just for their stuff helps to keep treasured items separate and helps to preserve a sense of identity in a shared room. I recently limited my boys to keeping only the amount of toys that will fit in their one bin. Ironically, they didn't fight me on this at all, after I stipulated that the XBox and controllers didn't have to fit in the bin! This will also cut down on the amount of clutter that must be cleaned up next time.
If you find that your kids' bedroom is at the full-blown intervention stage there are a couple ways to handle it. Pick a day that you can spend all day in the room cleaning it with them from top to bottom, or get them out of your hair and do it by yourself. If I tell my boys that mom will be cleaning their room with them, they are instantly encouraged. They will work with me longer, and stay on task better when I am there to help give direction and make suggestions as to where to put miscellaneous things. Another thing we do together is look through the closets and dressers and decide what stuff they don't need anymore. The last time we cleaned out the room together, we ended up giving away two large bins worth of old toys, junked another bin of broken toys, and also weeded out a large bag of clothes, all with their blessing!
If you decide you need to tackle cleaning the kids' bedroom by yourself, you will obviously have free reign to make lots of space-saving decisions, but may end up questioning your choices and wondering how your children will handle it when they come back. I have done this chore by myself before and was able to take out two huge bins of old toys that the boys didn't even miss or ask about, so I got lucky. Some children will notice even small things that are missing. I think it's best to ask your child how they feel about their room. Most kids can tell you if it is completely overwhelming to them and they need you to handle it, or if they would appreciate your help, but want to stay involved in the process. Giving them the choice is a smart way to help them feel in control, yet still face the fact that the room is going to get cleaned.
Needless to say, cleaning kids' bedrooms can be a lot of work if left too long. Once you and your child have regained control of their bedroom, the goal is now to keep the room in a manageable condition. Setting up a room cleaning schedule or routine with small things to do that keep the room maintained is one way to achieve this, and makes it easy.
So why do we go through all this hassle? One of the best reasons for children to have a clean room and to help clean their own room is that it teaches cleaning, organizing, and housekeeping skills that they will need as adults. It also teaches responsibility, and that not everything in life is fun, but it is still important!