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7 Kids and Their Rooms Are a Mess!

Whether it's tidying their room, taking out the trash, or putting on their pajamas, if a child doesn't see the need to get a task checked off of your list -- or they simply don't feel like it -- she will do her best to avoid it.
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Child with a messy room
Child with a messy room

My boyfriend and I have seven kids between us. I have been struggling because the girls will not do their chores. When they go to bed at night their room is completely clean. From the time they get up in the morning to the time they get on the bus the room is completely destroyed. You can't even see the floor! I have tried offering money. I have spanked them, taken things away and even bought them things and to give when everything was completed. Please help! I don't know what else to do..

I understand that it can be disheartening when our kids resist doing even the littlest things to make life run more smoothly after we do so much for them, but spanking simply teaches children that hitting is an acceptable outlet for frustration.

This doesn't mean your girls shouldn't help out, but let's look at what you can do to address the problem at its root without resorting to reactions that create fear and disconnection.

We'll start with acknowledging this truth: Children don't want to do what they don't want to do.

Whether it's tidying their room, taking out the trash, or putting on their pajamas, if a child doesn't see the need to get a task checked off of your list -- or they simply don't feel like it -- she will do her best to avoid it.

Make requests from connection. Human beings are wired to resist being bossed around. (Most parents know this all too well!) But thankfully, there is a way to override that instinct, and that is connection. Spend 2-3 minutes in the morning simply enjoying your girls. Cuddle, laugh, tell a joke, or just share an extra long hug and they will be more inclined to say, "Sure" when you ask them to spend a minute tidying up their room.

Lighten the mood. Put on a lively song and ask your girls to boogie their way through a three-minute clean up before heading down to breakfast. Even sluggish brains wake up when FUN is injected into a situation.

Avoid punishments that hurt. Many parents justify spanking by explaining that their parents spanked them when they were little and they turned out all right. But think back to those moments when you were little and a parent angrily lashed out with a slap or a spank. It hurts not only a child's body, but also their heart, weakening a sense of safety and closeness with the one (mom or dad) they most need to feel connected to. It creates problems with trust. Spanking creates shame. It generates fear and resentment. There are too many effective alternatives to justify continuing a pattern of physically hurting a child when she is misbehaving.

Don't make your children responsible for your happiness. If you come AT your children with desperation or neediness, you may awaken a stronger interest in resisting. I know it isn't fair, but oftentimes, children find our dramatic reactions to their behavior somewhat entertaining. (I call it MOM-TV!) You may prefer that your girls keep their room in order, but if you're desperate -- and they don't feel that connection with you I referred to earlier -- they may dig in their heels further when you start delivering threats or bribes.

Institute natural consequences. Gather everyone together for a family meeting. Set a positive tone. Begin with both you and your boyfriend saying something kind or appreciative about each member of the family -- including one another! Invite each child to do the same. Once you've established a friendly atmosphere, let the kids know that in the coming week, you're going to be working on keeping their bedrooms more orderly. Explain that you know they're rushing to get out the door, but you're not happy with the mess they leave behind. Decide with your boyfriend (in advance) on a natural consequence and share it with the children.
For instance, you may say,

"We understand that it's hard to decide what to wear, even if we've laid out clothes the night before. But it isn't working for us. So if you're able to tidy up after yourselves, things will stay the same. If not, we're going to gather the clothes that have been left on the floor and they'll be stored away for two weeks. We hope you'll remember to tidy up so you'll have access to all the clothes you like, but if not, this may help you remember to leave less of a mess behind."

Follow these tips, and hopefully you'll be able to see the floor again in your girls' room! Just remember -- be patient, and parent from connection.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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