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Tips for teaching my kids the value of tidying up

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

Arrgh - it's a mess - and when I ask him to tidy up, he just refuses!

Sound familiar? Many parents who contact me for my Quick Fix coaching package are struggling with battles about tidying up. Let's have a look at one way to help - by developing their self-motivation.

Or jump to the bottom of the article to find the one mistake to avoid when getting kids to tidy up.

Developing Intrinsic Motivation - the Positive Parenting Way

When I was a child, there wasn't really much say about whether or not I tidied my room - I, and my friends, just did it - because our parents said so. For some, it was out of duty, for others, out of fear, for others, in exchange for pocket-money. But you're here on my blog because you're looking for a different way - the positive parenting way. That's neither based on rewards nor punishment, but is looking to help give children intrinsic motivation: to get them to do the right thing for their own motives. So let's start there

How do we develop intrinsic motivation?

First step is to Work backwards from success.

In anything, if the task feels overwhelming, we struggle to start. If it looks easy, we're much more likely to take it on.

  • So, in the example of tidying-up, you do NOT want to start with a super messy bedroom. This is going to be tricky, because we are all so busy, and so when there are just one or two toys lying around, we tend to ignore them. It's not until it's got overwhelming for us that we feel the need to do something.

  • See it from your child's perspective. If the mess looks big to us, it's HUGE to them.

  • Instead, pick a moment when your child's room is looking almost tidy - one or two toys, maybe one sock on the floor (don't get me started on my odd sock pile!)

I can't take credit for the 'work backwards' idea - it's a Carol Dweck one.

Step 2: 'Sell' success

Describe to your child how you feel when you are in a tidy room - do you get that Marie Kondo 'joy'? Does it make you feel more peaceful or relaxed? Or perhaps there's a satisfaction when you've tidied the last object that brings a smile to your face. This needs to be regular and genuine. If you hate the actual tidying bit, there's no point in pretending - your child learns more from your actions/mood than from your actual words. Instead talk about the end result.

If your child is older, you can talk to them about the longer-term benefits of tidying. A 20-year study by the University of Minnesota shows that "involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. By involving children in tasks, parents teach their children a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives." Effectively, you are coaching your child.

Step 3: Break it down into manageable, precise tasks

Child tidying blocks into a basket

Now that we've talked through the theory, it's time to get practical. Look at the room together and come up with a plan for tidying it - one thing at a time. If you have a younger child, then Dave Moran's 'Tidy-Up' song is your friend - tidy toys, then close books and put them on the shelf (did you notice the specific instruction here?). After that, take a look around and see if things are neat.

If you have an older child, who is doing this independently, then make sure you have a time limit for your agreement: "I am going to tidy away my clothes and clear the floor by 16h30"

Step 4: Thank you

Let's come back to the 'Tidy-Up' song. Did you notice the line 'Thank you very much'? So, it's probably repeated a few too many times!, but it's really important. The moment your child starts to tidy up, then thank them. "Thank you for tidying up your clothes". Yes, even when they do it while telling you how mean you are/rolling their eyes at you!

AVOID Paying them for chores

Ho hum ho hum. Now, I know that pocket money is often cited as a really good 'incentive' for children to tidy their rooms. BUT if you offer your child a reward for doing something, then you are developing extrinsic motivation. Let me give an example. If I pay my teen 10€ for tidying his room this week, then next week, he's going to want 10€ as well. Then he might ask for 5€ for taking a shower, for tidying his plate away, etc. Yes, I'm exaggerating, but I hope you get my point. What we want instead is young adults who make the right choices, for their own sake, and who have a strong sense of self-confidence that comes from being given autonomy and choices.

Next Steps

This whole issue of Rewards and Punishment, as well as developing alternatives to it that will work for YOUR family, is a long-term journey. As a family, we started this journey when my eldest was just a year old, and someone suggested reading Punished by Rewards. Over the last 12 years, we've developed tools that work for our family, and I share these tools both in group workshops and in my individual Positive Parenting coaching sessions. If you'd like to know more about how I can help your family to shift into a more peaceful, calm family life, where you are not shouting at your kids in order to have them tidy their rooms, then message me today.

Want more articles on chores ? Have a read of these ones - and get my free download of chores by age.



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