Reduce the Tension of Having Your Kids Clean Their Room : Clearly Written
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Reduce the Tension of Having Your Kids Clean Their Room

by Dorothy L. Clear, CPO on 07/05/18

A few days ago I was a vendor at a family and kid’s event. I came up with an activity for people to do if they stopped by my table.  I put white, black, and red beads and buttons on a tray, along with silver and different colored paperclips. All the items were mixed together on the tray.

I wanted two people to have the opportunity to participate at the same time. I had a box with six compartments on one side of the tray, and six small individual round containers on the other side of the tray. Then, I placed two chairs opposite of me on the other side of the table for the little ones to be able to reach the tray. If they choose to participate, they were able to pick candy out of the treat baskets.

Sometimes, a child would came by with or without a parent. Most of the parents did not participate with their child, but one mother and son did it together. Sometimes kids came in pairs, siblings mostly. Some kids didn’t know each other; they just happened to come by at the same time. Their ages ranged from three to thirteen years old.

The one instruction that was given was to sort these objects into the containers. There was no right or wrong way to sort. They were asked to sort anyway they chose. I told them some people love to do this and some people don’t. Here are some of the results:

  • Some people got bored after a minute or two and moved on, but a few kids felt like they had to finish the whole tray. One teen became anxious form the beginning due to the lack of instructions.

  • Some kids sorted by color, putting all the red buttons and beads into one container, others separated the red beads from the red buttons.

  • A few kids sorted by category: all beads in one container no matter what color, and then all buttons in one container, then all the paperclips together.

  • There were kids who separated using both color and category.

  • One boy sorted the larger red buttons from the smaller red buttons.

  • A few asked about how to categorize the paperclips. Does silver go with white? I let them decide.

  • One little tike didn’t say a word. He just started filling up the cups. It seems like he was trying to get even amounts into each container. His mom said he love to clean up.

  • The very last boy who did the sorting, separated all the multi-colored paperclips into different cups by their color. He filled all six cups, and then had a bunch of pink paperclips left over with no cup to put them into. So, I gave him a seventh cup.


While people took to the task of moving the tiny objects, it gave me a chance to see what their style was: sort by category, sort by color, are using a combination of both. While they sorted, I would talk to them about how everyone processes information differently.

If the parents knew what sorting style their children had, they could use that information to teach them how to tidy their room without all the tension; unlike when parents act like drill sergeants, barking orders at a child. That method may work in the moment, but it may not have lasting effects. It just causes unwanted tension for everyone.

This simple activity can help parents realize that their children may process information differently from how it might be done by the parent. Your child’s style may lean more toward color coordinating, but the parent tries to teach them by using categories only.

The importance of this knowledge for parents is profound. For a few parents, it was mind blowing. Knowing how you and your children process information and make decisions will make the task of cleaning their room less tense for all of you. The two key areas that distinguish the organized from the disorganized is the ability to make decisions and put items into categories.

So, try this experiment with your children to see what their style is, then adjust your instructions to work with their preferences.

Here are some additional tips adapted from the article written by Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D at


  • Set a good example. Kids are far more sensitive and responsive to what we do than what we say.

  • Initially, do chores together. Armchair supervision doesn’t work anywhere near as well as how it’s done.

  • Make it fun, a game or a competition. Then, build in a reward for everyone.

  • Give the kids pride of place. Kids who feel their space is specially their own (whether a whole room or a corner or a shelf) are more likely to want to keep it nice.

  • Define clearly what it means to have a clean room. Make a checklist the kids can refer to with pictures for little ones, and simple words for older ones. You can find a variety of free printable chore lists on the internet.

  • A place for everything and everything in its place. It helps a lot if everything has a home. Provide the kids with boxes and bins. Work together at labeling and deciding what goes where.

  • Keep the stuff-level down. If your kids have enough of what they need, it might be helpful to establish a rule that for everything that goes in the room, something needs to come out.

  • Set reasonable standards for health and safety. Cleaning up health hazards like garbage, dirty dishes, and wet laundry simply is not negotiable. Same goes for taking care of safety hazards like broken glass or blocked exits.

Tags: kids and chore, kids cleaning up, parenting tips, discipline, organizing toys, cleaning their room, motivating kids, learning styles.

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