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1/21/19blog post

7 ways to spark the joy of tidying up in your kids

Netflix series "Tidying Up" with Marie Kondo inspires parents to work with their kids on establishing tidy habits with young children

By: Ryan Sinclair, PhD

“The most important thing is for parents to learn to tidy their own things first...their kids will notice and learn by example.” - Marie Kondo

As a parent, have you ever found yourself wondering, “Why won’t my child clean up?”  Do your children always follow your directions to clean their room?  This is a daily fight for many parents, who struggle to balance raising children, working, socializing, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning... For many families, maintaining a tidy household is almost impossible due to the multiple life demands we must meet on a daily basis.  We may find ourselves fantasizing, “If only my children would clean after themselves, we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

‘Tidying Up’ with Marie Kondo has been a viral Netflix sensation helping families discover the joy in tidying.  Perhaps more importantly, families are discovering how to approach such a seemingly overwhelming task.

Why is maintaining a clean household so important to us?  A direct relationship has been established between clutter and tension.  For some individuals, a more cluttered household may increase our stress levels.  Further, we may feel that we are failing as an adult if we are unable to maintain a minimal level of tidiness. 

Fortunately, maintaining a clean household and having a group of little helpers is possible!

In order to encourage our children to help us achieve tidying bliss, we must first remember that, as parents, we are the most important teachers in their young lives.  Tidying begins with us - if we don’t tidy after ourselves, it is unrealistic to expect our children to clean their mess.  Second, there are strategies parents may use to set our children up for tidying success!

  1. Have appropriate expectations for the age of your child.  Children between 2 to 3 years of age, for example, may begin by learning to put their toys away after playing.  Rather than having a young child make their bed, an initial step may be to pull the comforter up over the pillows.
  2. Be specific!  Telling a child, “Clean your room!” may be an overwhelming task.  Instead, consider breaking it down into more specific parts.  “Return your toys to the bin” and “put your dirty clothes in the hamper” are more specific, achievable goals.
  3. Use visual tools.  Particular bins may contain images of the item that belongs in them to help children know where particular items go.
  4. Encourage children to use their imagination!  Having children visualize their own cleaning business can keep the process of tidying fun and engaging!
  5. Do not expect perfection.  Recognize children may not complete tasks in the same way as an adult.  Rather than criticize their job, instead focus on reinforcing their success and progress.
  6. Limit the amount of toys by periodically downsizing.  Consider using containers for toys with a finite amount of space.  When bins become overstuffed, encourage your children to keep preferred toys while donating the others.
  7. Praise and show your appreciation.  To boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem, in addition to creating a positive association with tidying up, provide frequent reinforcement.  Telling your child “Great job!” with a high five or a hug reinforces their behavior and strengthens the parent-child bond.

By including tidying as part of the daily routine, modeling appropriate tidying behaviors, and reinforcing our children for their successes in cleaning, we may establish good habits that last for years to come. 

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Ryan Sinclair, PhD

psychology, sleep medicine
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