When Your Children Are Not Motivated to Clean Up

 

What This Situation Is Like for Parents

 

You know it’s your job to raise responsible children…. And part of being responsible is learning to clean up the mess you’ve made.

Besides, you already do so much for your kids. Should you act like their maid as well? Wouldn’t that make them feel entitled? And what about the fact that one day you won’t be there?

So when you ask them to clean up and they refuse…

… or they pretend they don’t hear you 

… or asking them to clean turns into a battle 

You become angry…. And stuck. After all, how can you force them to clean?

 

What This Situation Is Like for Children

 

It is pretty much inevitable that children will love to play… and hate to clean up. And it’s not coincidence that most children feel the same way. 

Because their brains aren’t fully developed, and they are missing skills that prevent them from being successful. So

…their brains are wired for stimulation and novelty. They may start to clean, and then they see a toy they haven’t played with and get distracted…

…they struggle to transition from something that IS engaging (playing or whatever else they are doing when we ask them to clean) to the under-engaging task of cleaning.

… they have little impulse control, so when they see something that grabs their attention they reach out for it and forget about the consequences

… they don’t have the “self-talk” skills that we have to coach themselves through the process, “you may want to play, but it’s time to eat dinner and that’s really more important than playing…” (especially when their agenda is different than ours, and they really DON’T think that eating dinner is more important!)

But they do want to be successful, and when given some respect and some tools, they usually do the thing we ask.

 

 

How It Usually Goes

When Children Are Not Motivated to Clean

 

Scenario: It’s Saturday evening, and Mia and her brother Aaron had made a mess of the family room all day long. Their mom notices the mess and tells them each they need to come clean up.

 

Mom: Mia! Aaron! You need to clean this mess.

Mia: We’re busy right now!

Aaron: We’ll be there in a few minutes!

Mom: No. You need to do this now or you won’t have time to get it all done before dinner.

Mia and Aaron don’t say anything. They are doing something silly with their dad and don’t want to stop.

Mom: Mia! Aaron! I’m talking to you.

Mia: But Aaron made most of that mess.

Aaron: No I didn’t!

Mom: I don’t care who made the mess. We’re all cleaning it up. Get in here! Now.

Mia ignores her mom.

Aaron comes into the room and starts slowly picking through the items on the floor, slowly picking up one thing at a time and not making much progress.

Mom: Mia! You come too!

Mia: I’ll do it later, Mom. I promise.

Mom is frustrated that the room still isn’t getting clean and doesn’t know what to do about it.

 

How It Could Go

When Children Are Not Motivated to Clean

 

Scenario: It’s Saturday evening, and Mia and her brother Aaron had made a mess of the family room all day long. Their mom notices the mess and tells them each they need to come clean up.

 

Mom: Mia! Aaron! You need to clean this mess.

Mia: I’m busy right now!

Aaron: I’ll be there in a few minutes!

 

CALM

Mom is annoyed that both of her kids basically tell her “no” when she tells them to clean up the mess they made. She also knows that she can handle this situation if she can figure out why the kids are being so resistant.  

 

Mom walks over to where the kids are being silly with their dad.

Mom: What are you all doing?

Mia: Dad’s showing us this cool trick he can do. And he’s right in the middle of it.

Mom: I see. How long will it take to finish the trick?

 

CONNECT

Instead of insisting that her agenda mattered more than everyone else’s, Aaron and Mia’s mom respected that they were right in the middle of something. She also recognized that waiting 2 minutes isn’t the end of the world as long as the kids cleaned.   

 

 

Mia: 2 minutes.

Mom: OK, and what needs to happen in 2 minutes?

Aaron (slightly annoyed): We’ll clean.

Mom (after the trick is over): OK, time to clean.

Mia: But Aaron made most of that mess.

Aaron: No I didn’t!

Mom: I wonder if you can clean this mess up in a new way.

Mia: Huh?

Mom: Do you think you can put some of the things away by the letter they start with? Who can find the things that start with an A, B, or C?

Aaron: Ohhh, my cars!

Mia: Ah, and my bear!

Mom: OK, let’s get all the As, Bs, and Cs. Because I see some Ds and Fs.

Aaron: And there’s a T!

Aaron and Mia continue to search for items that fit the letter that their mom calls out. The next time they have to clean up, they are likely to use this strategy on their own because it made cleaning more bearable.

 

CORRECT STEP 1

Aaron and Mia’s mom understood that Mia and Aaron would much more easily be able to complete the task if she worked WITH their brains (that struggle with monotony). She knew that nagging them or trying to control them would only put them into Yuck and would not motivate them to clean.  

 

…And if the kids STILL don’t clean up

  • Aaron and Mia’s mom needs to re-state her boundary
  • They need to get upset (and release their Yuck) while she remains firm
  • When they are complaining about cleaning, their mom doesn’t need to defend her position. She just needs to let them ride out their Yuck.
  • Once the kids have released they Yuck, they are more likely to clean — even if only because they know their mom won’t budge.

 

CORRECT STEP 2

Aaron and Mia’s mom recognizes that they will NOT cooperate when they are in Yuck.

They need to release their Yuck so that they do what they need to do (and making it engaging at this point will make the clean-up go even faster).   

 

 

WHAT MAKES THIS IN-THE-MOMENT STRATEGY POSSIBLE

 

The “proactive deposits” discussed in the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If your child is not motivated to clean up, remember:

 

Depositing into CALM

Aaron and Mia’s mom will not be able to stay calm if

a.) her own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are low (she feels like the kids have been ignoring her all day, etc.) or

b.) she has the expectation that kids will jump up and clean up (with no regard to their perspective) simply because she asked them to

When she makes sure her own needs are met and sets realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, Aaron and Mia’s mom is more likely to be able to stay calm.

See Step 1 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap for help meeting your needs and setting expectations proactively so you can stay calm.

 

 

Depositing into CONNECT

Aaron and Mia’s mom will only be able to connect if

a.) she respects that all behavior has a reason and

b.) she understands those reasons (in this case, the kids were right in the middle of something. Not only are transitions hard for kids, but if she disregards the kids’ perspective they might become more defiant because they feel disrespected.) 

When she becomes comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, she will be able to connect more effectively.  

See Step 2 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap to learn the reasons for children’s behavior so you can connect more effectively.

 

Depositing into CORRECT

Aaron and Mia’s mom will only be able to use tools to effectively correct if:

a.) She has demonstrated consistently in the past that she means it when she says that the kids need to clean. (If they think there is any way to get out of it, they will.)

b.) She has made enough deposits into the relationship that focusing on cleaning will not immediately put the kids into Yuck and instigate a power struggle.

When she becomes demonstrates that she means what she says and when she makes deposits into the kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, she will be able to connect more effectively.

See Step 3 of the Parenting by Deposit Roadmap  to learn more about improving your influence so you can correct behavior.