Finally. After nearly 19 years of parenting, 3 kids, and a dozen diagnoses between them, I finally figured out the magic sauce — 7 Simple Steps — to get my child to clean his room, and like it!
Truth is, all these years, I’ve been going about it all wrong with him. It’s not that my 12 year old son is suddenly wise enough to recognize the intrinsic value of cleaning his room. Nor is he now a master of efficiency in the process. The difference in his current success lies with my approach, not him!
For years I’ve been putting structures into place, making lists, taking photos, negotiating rewards AND consequences — all met with grousing and complaints, and a bucket of alligator tears. Now don’t get me wrong — systems are quite useful and they definitely have their place. But sometimes, kids just need to make their space their own. As long as I was trying to dictate it, it was always going to be my agenda. As long as I was the only one who really cared that his room was getting cleaned, it was a recipe for limited success, at best.
But this summer, I’ve done something different — VERY different for me. And it’s worked like a charm!
Here are the 7 Simple Steps that worked:
1. Motivation: My son is beside himself with excitement about camp this summer — he has been counting down the days. While packing for camp has always been a chore, I tied it to his dream this summer. When does he “GET” to pack for camp? When he goes through the clothes, purges, and lets me know what else he still needs. Suddenly, he cares, and he knows WHY he cares!
2. Negotiation: I talked with him how to clean his room. To be frank, he was resistant. So I agreed to let him do it “his way.” I asked if he would let me point out what needed to be done, and make “helpful” suggestions –as long as I didn’t try to control the process. He agreed. It was now HIS project, not mine.
3. Structure: Again — HIS, not mine. He wanted to do it in a way that made no sense to me, but that would be more fun for him. I let go of efficiency, and gave him complete ownership. Usually, I focus on the process, because I want him to learn how to create efficient systems. This time, I focused on the experience of completion — which we never seem to achieve in his so-called “man cave.”
4. Make a Mess: I let him make a huge mess. He dumped everything in the center of the floor. I suggested he remove the hammock so he could get to it all easier (biting my tongue — OMG where did all that stuff come from?!!) He acknowledged that the hammock was a distraction, so he actually removed it from the room completely.
5. Time: No rushing. It’s taken two weeks to get his room cleaned and pack for camp. It’s summer — what’s the harm? Why try to pack it into two days? In this time he has also read books, watched movies, had dinner and evenings with us, handled his chores. I let him sleep a little late, read a lot, and actually taught him how to reward himself (a concept that has always been hard for him). For example, watch a scene from Harry Potter, finish the legos; watch another scene, finish the socks; read his book in the tree, finish the bunk bed — you get the picture. Time was on our side, for a change!
6. Acknowledgement: Constant praise and focus on what he HAS done has kept him motivated to keep going. When I walk in to check on his progress, I point out what I see improved — even if it’s very slight. Is he goofing off and playing? You betcha. But I’m focusing on the successes. Occasionally I’ll ask if he feels like he’s been getting off track — or even suggest what he might want to focus on. But mostly, focusing on progress is keeping him moving!
7. Final Push: The hardest part is the last 10%. As is typical with ADHD, it’s boring at the end! This is when I got a little more hands on – setting a few more expectations, visiting a bit more frequently, even setting some deadlines. He asked why he has to finish. I explained that it’s important to learn to finish things (he needs to understand this tendency), and helped him discover a new motivation for the final push.
Unlike previous efforts to get my son to clean his room, this summer I was not invested in HOW he did it, or frankly, how well he did. Did he throw away as much as I’d like? No. Did he move the children’s books out like I suggested? No, again!
But here’s the thing. He invested in the process, actually had fun some of the time (he TOLD me so!), and will have a sense of accomplishment that is his alone. It’s not perfect. It’s better than that. It’s his room. And when he comes back from camp, it will be all ready for him to mess it up all over again!
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