How To Get Your Child To Pick Up Their Room

a white painted children s room

Are you constantly trying to get your child to pick up their room, only to have them ignore your request? Then this guide will definitely help you!


by Mikki Stone | Certified Behavioral Specialist and creator of the Ask Mikki column–a Q&A column dedicated to helping parents navigate behavioral issues with their children. You can follow her on Instagram @mikkigaffentstone

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Hi Mikki,

How do I get my six-year-old son to pick up his room? I sent him in there with his dad to help and BOTH of them stood there, unmoving and looking like deer in headlights! Do I have to do it myself? I don’t know what to do with this!

-Angie

Hi Angie,

I can picture the scene; you describe it so well. I suspect your partner has a mom who did all the housework when he lived at home, am I right? If so, he hasn’t learned the art of picking up a room.

We often assume that adults know all the things, but if they were not taught as children and haven’t had to figure it out as adults, there’s an honest to goodness knowledge gap. I also suspect that you are asking for the ‘’men’’ to do some housework, and that is new behavior for you. 

Assuming the above or something like it be true, here’s a tried and tested plan for you to resolve this issue:

Make a chart of all the steps involved in picking up that room. In applied behavior analysis, this is called a task analysis. You break down a job into component parts. Like building a Lego ™ model.  

Begin with the things that are likely to be literally tripped over and be specific with what needs to happen with that task. Otherwise, you could end up with a whole lot of things stuffed in the closet and be swamped by an avalanche when the door is opened.

An example scenario:

If there are trucks and trains all over the floor, the bed needs making. If the dirty clothes are mixed with clean, also all over the floor, you are going to need some structure for the tidy-up process. Create a chore chart, using paper and pen, and be sure to include a place to check mark at the end of each task. As the tasks won’t change much for a while, you might like to self-laminate the sheet and use a dry-erase marker to save time, labor, and the environment. You may also want to add a reward system, as this kind of positive reinforcement can often help a child stick with their new chores.

Sample room pick up chart for a child:

Step 1: Pick up the trucks and place them in a toy box (or whatever place you have for them).

Step 2: Pick up the trains and place them in another toy bin or shelf.

Step 3: Place dirty clothes in the hamper. You may need to explain what ‘dirty clothes’ means and to how decide what is clean versus what is dirty.

Step 4: Hang up / fold clean clothes. Place folded clothes in their respective drawers.

Step 5: Make the bed–with clean sheets if need be.

Step 6: Vacuum the floor and dust the furniture.

Bonus: Your partner gets to learn the system too, and no nagging is involved. At the end of all the tasks – it may take them a while – they both get to choose from three optional activities. (Dad and kiddo bonding, anyone?) I recommend not using food or toy purchases here, because cleaning the room is for life, and we don’t always get rewarded for housework! Using food as a reward is problematic, and I’ll happily go into that another time, but for now I will say that food as a reward is where emotional eating begins.

I hope that these tips gives you some comfort and assistance. If not, I’d be happy to answer any further questions you might have. -Mikki.


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