Kids make the best messes. Each stinky sock, each dish left unwashed, each unshelved book and misplaced toy in a kid’s room is like a merit badge from the Little Slob’s Book of Scouting. Sometimes, parents simply give up. But there are reasons why they shouldn’t.
Consider the boy in Tom Lichtenheld’s book What’s With This Room? This little guy has accumulated a layer of bedroom funk for each year of school. “Mom, Dad, you don’t understand. It’s not random filth, everything’s planned!”
The mess that he has created includes an explosive pile of junk that eventually blows through the roof like a tornado of trash. Then, even he must concede that sometimes cleaning is okay.
This is far from the only tale of woe in an era when baking with Spam is more popular than getting kids to clean their rooms. In Pigsty, by Mark Teague, for instance, little Wendell Fultz ignores his mom’s cleaning request so many times that, eventually, real pigs move into his room because they feel more at home there than they do in the barnyard. Wendell likes the company of one pig, and manages to entertain two. But when a pack of pigs curls up in his covers and nibbles his baseball cards, he has had enough. “Many hooves make light work,” he declares, before he turns his pink pals into a bedroom cleaning crew.
But, without such fictional friends to encourage kiddie clean-up, parents sometimes feel like agents in a housekeeping version of Mission: Impossible. That’s when some experts try to remind them that there are greater threats to family life than kiddie clutter.
“Is this the battle you really want to fight?” asks Elise Fantle Shimberg. When the answer is yes—yes, a clean room outweighs greater concerns like maintaining emotional well-being—this author and family therapist makes sure that kids know there are definite consequences to skimping on their chores.
“We have a generation of wimpy parents who expect little from their children,” Shimberg says. “If we expect our children to follow through, they will.”
Although, referring to cleaning as a “chore” may be the best way to torpedo a kid’s enthusiasm for the job. Instead, turn cleaning into a party or a game, or put the assignment into a song. Later, photograph the clean room and brag to other grown-ups about what a great job the kid did.
Giving kids clothes and towels to fold during television time, or enlisting clingy toddlers to help mom or dad with household chores, are two other ideas.
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