Why it's important for kids to keep their rooms clean ... and not just because you said so

abredeson@islandpacket.comAugust 11, 2013 

LIFE MESSY TB

Organization starts in the bedroom. Kids who keep their areas clean are setting themselves up for successful futures.

OVIE CARTER — KRT

I don't know about you, but we have a difficult time keeping everything neat and tidy at our house. Children don't always put things in the right places, even when you tell them to.

But an organized home can make life a lot easier. You can find things, for one. And secondly, it just looks nicer without all the clutter and chaos.

Having an organized home can also help children succeed in school.

Hilton Head Island Elementary School counselor Jessica Howard said teaching children to be organized at home can have a positive impact on their academics.

She said if a child is not organized, he might forget to bring his homework to school or forget to bring papers home for his parents. If his bookbag isn't organized, then the papers can get lost.

"It definitely starts at home with their bedroom," Howard said. "Make sure they make their bed and keep it clean. Giving them jobs around the house is important."

She said giving children responsibilities at home will prepare them for school, where they will be required to write down assignments and keep track of homework.

So, how exactly do you teach a child to be organized? The task seems like a daunting one, but Hilton Head Island licensed professional counselor and interior designer Dr. Debi Lynes said there is hope. With the proper guidance, children can be taught to clean up after themselves. In fact, she said they should be expected to help around the house.

"Cleaning your room is part of being in a healthy family," Lynes said.

She said expecting your children to clean their rooms shows them that you think they are important and capable. If a parent always cleans his child's room, that's like telling him you don't think he is able to do it.

"Their rooms are the perfect place to learn accountability and responsibility in the form of empowerment because it's their space," she said.

Lynes said parents might have to adjust their expectations of what a clean room looks like, but their children will be better off for it in the long run. Her grandson, for example, was having a hard time making his bed. So his parents compromised by letting him sleep in a sleeping bag on top of the bed. That way all he has to do is zip it up and go rather than struggling to tuck in sheets and straighten out blankets.

Lynes said children can begin cleaning up at 16 months of age. Between 1 and 2 years old is a good time to model cleaning for a child. Spray the Windex on the table, and tell the child to wipe it. Have the child sweep or hold the dust pan while you sweep.

At about 2-4 years old, teach your child to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Explain to him what to do. This is also a good time to teach task completion, such as opening and closing lids or doors.

Between ages 5 and 8, Lynes said children can start working on independence and empowerment. Around ages 10-13 they should be given time parameters. Tell them exactly what they need to do by a certain time. Make an agreement with them and confirm that they will have it done by that time. This will teach them time management.

"If they wait until 2:45 (when the deadline is 3:00), so be it," Lynes said. "That's the tough part for parents. But the reality is -- how do you teach time management if you don't allow them to manage their time?"

If the child does not do what he was told to do, she said help him finish it. But tell him the next time he will get less time to complete the task.

Lynes said the goal is to teach children to be proactive with their time management while also letting them know you value their time.

"Be creative and concrete and clear," Lynes said. "And have fun with it. It is a very good teaching opportunity. Keeping a room clean teaches not just cleanliness but order. It can teach organization. ... It can teach prioritizing."

Howard suggests that children start preparing for their return to school about a week ahead of time. They should start getting back in the routine of going to bed early and start working on getting themselves organized. They can practice by putting out their clothing the night before they are going to wear them. To give them some practice, parents can ask children what they need to put out. This will encourage independence and help them practice their organizational skills.

And once they are back in school, Beaufort Middle School director of guidance Deborah Black said students should have a specific place for doing their homework every day. That space should be neat and free of distractions, especially for children who have attention problems.

"Sometimes having a completely cleaned room is a dream for 12- and 13-year-olds and even older," Black said. "But having an area that is dedicated to school and has the supplies there and is kept free of distractions ... seems to really help."

Black said students tend to do better in their classes if they have a clean locker and bookbag, and an organized binder with an area for each subject and for homework. If they are organized, they won't have to dig through their binders or backpacks to look for homework while the teacher is speaking, which could have a detrimental effect on their learning.

She said it's important to get students used to putting things in a calendar, whether it's on a phone, laptop, tablet or paper calendar. That way they know what is coming up on what days.

Black wants to warn parents of fifth- through seventh-graders that there is some regression in organizational skills during that time for kids. She said when the hormones kick in, for some reason many students have a harder time organizing.

"So it's really important that parents assist their students, maybe even more so than they did in elementary school," she said.

Black said at Beaufort Middle School the first week is like boot camp for students. Before they get their books and lockers, the kids are taught how to organize their binders. Sixth-graders learn how to take notes that week.

"If they have the skills early, the skills will help them through," Black said.

For girls who like to carry purses to school, Black said the fewer items in the purse, the better. She said items often get lost, and if they don't get lost, they can be a distraction. She said parents should get into the habit of helping their daughters purge their purses weekly.

And for elementary school students, she recommends parents conduct a weekly bookbag check. If the teacher sends home notes on Fridays, that's a good day to look through your child's backpack.

But what about all the work our children bring home each week? Are we expected to keep it all? That just adds more clutter. Black suggests keeping assignments for one quarter at a time. Put them in a box, then throw them away at the end of the quarter.

If a child has trouble catching on to these organizational skills, parents should reach out to a school counselor for help.

"If you see a child struggling, don't wait," she said. "Call."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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