It doesn’t work. They won’t. They won’t because they can’t. They don’t know what I mean. This is one of those things it took me a while to figure out. “Cleaning a room” is an overwhelming and vague task for most children, even mine who, like all the children of Lake Woebegone, are above average.
I get much better results giving a series of an age-appropriate, very specific, tasks. “Pick up all the clothes that are on the floor and put them in the hamper, then bring the hamper to the laundry room,” is a measurable, concrete task an eight-year-old or up can accomplish, and probably even a younger child. Any more than a two-step process, though, and I’m are asking for a loss of focus somewhere between step one and step three. Once this first job is done, I can safely give the next job, which might be “Make sure there are no cups or plates in your room, and if there are, put them in the dishwasher.” It’s amazing what a child can get done all by themselves in 15 or 30 minutes when it’s broken down like this, especially if I am lavish with the praise and gratitude after each step. Even so, unless the queen is coming this afternoon, I usually let off after a half-hour or so because cleaning fatigue sets in. Hey, I don’t like it either, I understand.
Another way to get it done faster and with less wailing and gnashing of teeth is to say something like “Let’s clean your room together for a few minutes, would you rather change your sheets or pick the toys up off the floor?” It works well to let the child pick the task – another thing I learned the hard way. It’s so tempting to delegate the more loathsome task, but I am happier with the results if the child gets to do whichever job seems more fun to them, and I take the leftovers.