Helping a child clean their room is never an easy task. It can be overwhelming and stressful - for both the parent and the child. However, cleaning up after themselves, particularly in their room, is a life skill that children need to develop in their lifetime. Further, learning to clean a room teaches valuable lessons such as responsibility, organizational skills, and positive self-esteem.
Teaching a child with ADHD to clean their own room can be especially challenging and even frustrating for those involved. However, like anything, with a few specific strategies, they can grasp this large, daunting task and the end result will be a sleeping space that is clean and organized - one both parents and their child can take pride in!
1. Make a habit of cleaning on a schedule
Children with ADHD can thrive on a consistent, expected schedule. In fact, any deviations in their typical routine might be a trigger for the child and an episode or total meltdown may result. Additionally, springing the task of cleaning their room on them suddenly might be something that both overwhelms and shuts them down. Therefore, it is highly suggested to make room cleaning a part of a daily or weekly routine. It can be made a part of a chore chart so kids always understand what they need to do on any given day/week or simply give them an advanced warning that “on Tuesday afternoons it will be time to clean your room.”
2. Allow plenty of time for a child with ADHD to clean adequately
Make sure to give your child plenty of time to clean their room properly. Giving them an hour and expecting their room to be cleaned to a parent’s expectations is hardly reasonable. Be sure there is a large block of time available for room cleaning. Remember, too, that it would not be ideal to have your child start a room cleaning task and have to stop for something and return later. If your child is focused and committed it is best to let them continue on and finish if time allows.
3. Break up cleaning into smaller tasks
Depending on the current status of your child’s room, it may be necessary to break up the process into smaller “chunks” to successfully get the job done. Here are some suggested “mini-tasks:”
- Picking up all trash and placing into a trash can or bag
- Picking up books and re-shelving or restoring them to their designated location
- Picking up and organizing shoes and other outerwear
- Putting toys back in the toy box or designated spot
- Sorting laundry:
- Sort dirty laundry into one pile
- Sort clean laundry into another
- Sort clean laundry into piles of shirts, sweatshirts, pants, pajamas, undergarments, and socks
- Put piles into their respective places and/or hang up shirts
- Strip the bed of all sheets and pillowcases
- Re-make the bed with fresh sheets and pillowcases, place blankets back on the bed and make the bed
- Bring dirty laundry pile and sheets down to the laundry room or designated laundry hamper
- Wipe down windows and doorknobs with a disinfectant wipe or window cleaner - parent supervision or help may be required!
Again, the abundance of tasks to be done to adequately clean their room may seem overwhelming to a child with ADHD. Ensure the tasks are age or developmentally appropriate and that they child is physically capable of completing the task. Be sure to go slow, reward at designated intervals and encourage a break when necessary. If desired, keep a chart to check-off tasks as they go, as many kids with ADHD are visually motivated and this may encourage and empower them to keep going!
4. Organize according to THEIR standards
It might be tempting to mandate certain toys or books be placed in specific areas, but try to let your child pick where they want their belongings to go in their room. This helps foster independence and self-confidence in their choices and allows them to have their room look and feel the way they want it to. Be sure there are plenty of available options for placement of toys and books so they don’t get stacked on the end of dressers or bookshelves. Make use of toy organizers or shelves with cubes for book storage. As long as the items are picked up and organized in a designated area, let the child pick where that area should be. They’ll likely be proud to show off their cleaning and organizing skills and should be rewarded for this!
5. Other tips for successful cleaning with a child with ADHD
- Be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day! The process of thoroughly cleaning a room, especially if it is the first time doing this together or letting your child clean alone, might take several hours. It is more important to keep them motivated, focused and on-task than to rush and have the process be done in an hour or two.
- Allow for some creativity: Think outside the box. As with anything, the more fun you make a task for a child, the more fun they’ll have doing it. Turn on fun dance music if it gets their bodies moving and amped-up. Slower music could also be used to get your child to slow their minds and bodies down to focus on cleaning.
- Make goals together: Perhaps when they have all their laundry sorted and their dirty laundry brought where it belongs, they can take a break and come have a snack. Or maybe if they finish cleaning by dinner time they can have a dessert afterward. Whatever reward motivates your child to keep going and stay on track for that reward at the end, try it.
Let’s be honest, nobody likes to clean their room. However, a clean room, especially for a child, is inviting, comforting and relaxing - whether or not your child wants to admit it! Research suggests that even the simple act of making a bed inspires feelings of positivity and accomplishment. The entire task of room cleaning helps to empower a child’s self-esteem and give them confidence that they can complete large tasks like an adult would.
Ashley Lavoie is a mom of three and manages both child and adult ADHD and neonatal diabetes. She is advocating for awareness and loves writing and connecting with other families like hers.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.