Your friend is coming over in a couple of hours and you ask your 4 year old daughter to tidy up her room. She is playing with her bead set and ignores you. You ask her again. She says she will tidy it but keeps on playing. You get louder and become more frustrated and angry.
You realise that your 4 year old is capable of tidying her room and you don’t want to do it yourself as you have a lot of cleaning of your own to do.
There are a number of things that you can do that will definitely increase the chances of your daughter (or son) co-operating. If you can put these tactics into practice on a regular basis your chances are even better.
This is fairly obvious to most parents, but worth mentioning as it is important.
Tone of voice
Try to talk to your child in a friendly and positive manner with varied intonation and warmth in your voice.
Getting louder will either make your child tune out or make her (or him) scared of you. Neither is wise.
Plenty of time
Children, just like us, need some time to complete what they are doing before they change to a task for mum or dad. It is respectful to allow a short amount of time before expecting your child to take your request seriously.
Make it a game
Issuing a challenge often works well eg “Do you think you could have your floor tidy before we ask your friend to come for a play.” “I wonder how many blocks you can fit in this container”. Giving an appropriate tool to use eg an interesting duster, can motivate a child to get going too.
Give a reason
Tell your child exactly why you would like her (him) to tidy her room. You might like to mention attractiveness, hygiene and ease of finding things using language appropriate to a four year old.
Routine cleaning time
Tidying up at specific times each day can be really successful eg. before meals, before getting something else for your child to play with, before going somewhere, before bed or before the telly goes on. I used to get my sons to tidy their rooms before we went to parties. They were incredibly speedy then!
This is essential. If we can notice what our children do right and specifically comment and thank, we will be pleasantly surprised. Commenting on achievement is one small part of encouragement. We need to focus on improvement eg. “Wow, you dusted as well as tidying today! Good for you.”
We can notice effort eg. “I can see that you really tried hard to make this room tidy and organised.”
We can stress co-operation eg. “My friend will be very impressed when she sees this attractive room that you cleaned. Well done!
Criticising our child’s efforts has the effect of discouraging her (him) and she (he) may feel less like having a go at something in the future.
This is vital in parenting in general. If we expect our child to keep her (his) room tidy, then we need to spruce up our own room.
Start when child is about 18 months
Beginning at an early age is a smart way to teach children that tidying and cleaning are a normal part of family life. Encourage your child when she (he) lets you know that she (he) wants to do something herself (himself) that is achievable. Eg. If she (he) wants to feed or dress herself (himself), let her (him) have a go. She (he) will improve with practice.
Fun activity when finished
This motivates and inspires the child in a similar way to an adult. eg. How about we play a game of cards when you have tidied your room?
A Spot for everything
Having a variety of storage containers, hooks, drawers, cupboards, bookshelves etc can help. Labels can be useful too. If your child knows where everything lives in her (his) room, the job is far less daunting.
A little bit at a time
Sometimes a whole room is just too much. If the room is set up properly, the child can be asked to tidy up one or several parts.
We can expect a better result from our children as they get older. A four year old can tidy her (his) room on her (his) own. However some help from mum or dad will make it easier all round.
Love and attention
A child who feels loved and nurtured will be far more likely to co-operate and try hard, than a child who is feeling unacceptable and inferior.
Younger children have a shorter attention span and will need far more assistance from adults or siblings to tidy.
Older children and teenagers can be expected to do the job on their own as long as the previous principles are followed.
Remember nagging and yelling is ineffective and is frustrating and annoying for children/teenagers and parents. Using an authoritarian style of parenting is not conducive to the child or parent’s wellbeing. A more democratic, authoritative style works much better.