Cleaning with ADHD is never an easy task. Perhaps even more challenging is getting a child with ADHD to clean their room. 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 with ADHD need to develop.
Learning to clean a room teaches valuable lessons such as:
- Organizational skills
- Positive self-esteem
Below are 5 tips to help your ADHD child clean their room. With these specific strategies, children can grasp this large, daunting task. 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 part of a daily or weekly routine.
A cleaning schedule will help both you and your child stay organized, focused, and on task. Bedroom cleaning can be included in a chore chart so kids always understand what they need to do on any given day and week. Or alternatively, 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
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.
Try to avoid having your child start a room cleaning task when they might 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 door knobs with a disinfectant wipe or window cleaner - parent supervision or help may be required!
Again, the abundance of tasks needed to adequately clean their room may seem overwhelming to a child with ADHD. So simply telling them to “clean your room” may fall flat. Cleaning with ADHD is best done in small, incremental stages one at a time.
Be sure to go slow, reward at designated intervals, and encourage a break when necessary. Since many kids with ADHD are visually motivated, you could try keeping a chore chart to check-off tasks as they go. This has the added bonus of both encouraging and empowering 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 bedroom organizing skills and should be rewarded for this!
5. Make room cleaning goal-driven
One of the tricks to getting your child with ADHD to clean their room is making it a positive, rewarding activity.That’s why using goals to make organizing a bedroom more engaging is a great way to encourage involvement.
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.
Each mini-task can be set as a goal or even the act of starting to clean can be a goal itself in the beginning. Whatever reward motivates your child to keep going and stay on track to the end, try it! Because everyone deserves a reward for cleaning their room.
There are a lot of different ways to get your child with ADHD to clean their room, as well as benefits. Organizing a bedroom doesn’t have to be something to dread. In fact, it can be an opportunity to connect and learn.
With that in mind, here are some other great tips to remember:
- Be patient: Rome wasn’t built in a day! The process of thoroughly cleaning a bedroom, especially doing it for the first time doing together or letting your child clean alone, might take several hours. It is more important to keep them motivated, focused, and on-task. Don’t rush to get the job done. This will only exacerbate hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Instead, encourage your child to organize gradually and methodically, focusing on the mini-tasks we mentioned above one step at a time.
- 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: Let your child help decide what the goal should be for successfully cleaning their room or completing a mini-task. This will get them more involved in the process, and can help to make room cleaning something to look forward to.
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.