“How can I get my 11 year old to clean her room?”

From the mailbag:

"Dear Mama Bear,

My 11 year old is a slob.  If I let her, her room would be declared a disaster area by local news stations.

How can I motivate her to clean it?



Dear Frustrated,

Oh wow, does MamaBear hear you!!

It's been MamaBear's experience that unless:

  • Your child was born with the "clean gene"
  • You made neatness/cleaning a priority starting when said child was an embryo
  • You followed up incessantly during the formative years

You're just plain up the proverbial paddle without a creek.

It's like soggy toenail fungus; it's a plain fact of life.  There are ways to lessen/prevent it, mind you, but wow….it's hell to deal with!

So…lots of empathy to you!

Now, here's how MamaBear would deal with it (and actually *has* been dealing with it now for 15+ years).

Step 1.)  Choose your battles.

How important is neatness *really* to you?

If it's more important than surviving your standard everyday tornado, then progress to step 2.

But if not, use this as a negotiation point.  Let your kid know that you're willing to let go the neatness of her room in return for whatever concessions you want.  It has to be a give and take.

Step 2.)  Spell out the rules.

If, however, you do want to be able to at least see the floor (and ideally, the floor should be unmoving from various rodents/buggies and the like)

State your expectations.

Do *not* deal in generalities here!  For example, tell her that the floor must be visible without resorting to excavation equipment…. else XYZ privileges will be lost.

And be prepared to follow up on it!

Explain how, while her room *is* her room, it's part of *your* house and as such, you have the right to insist it meets the bare minimum of human habitation standards.  However, (and this is important), be sure to listen to her take as well.

While ultimatums are satisfying for adults to smoosh upon kids….at the age of 11, kids do have the right to expect their views will be heard as well.

Then smoothly move to:

Step 3.)  Write out a contract that you both sign.

I've actually found this to be most effective myself!  Seeing the expectations laid out in black and white, plus signing an agreement to them….at least gives you the fall-back option should she not keep her end of the bargain up. 

If boundaries are pushed, you can point to her signed contact and explain, "Hey, you chose to drop the ball and ignore what you promised me….hence, here are ABC consequences."

The key here is to ensure there is absolutely zero ambiguity. 


Step 4.)  Make it so.

The plain fact is, your child is more likely to become a star Sumo wrestler than change her habits immediately.

So, do *not* expect a miracle of change…instead, make sure you follow up, day after day, to help her develop the new habits that allow you to tolerate her presence in your home.

It might take several centuries, but if you're consistent, you should see change in the positive direction.

One thing is for sure, *nothing* will be different if you don't try something new.

So….give it your best shot.  Your daughter will thank you (eventually……'way 'way *'way* eventually).

Thus speaks….MamaBear

11 Breathtaking Ways To Excite Your Kid About Cleaning


MamaBear has to warn you *bigtime*.

While there are many ways in which her kids are utterly more magnificent than a free year's supply of Krispy Kreme maple-frosted sinfully yummy donuts, she has to admit…

They were all born minus the Clean Gene.

Heck, they were born sans the Neat Gene as well!

MamaBear chooses her battles, and does tend to let neatness happily go the way of the Dodo Bird, and the Passenger Pigeon, and academics expectations of 30 years ago where gasp! Kids took ownership of their grades and didn't blame the teachers and their parents didn't hire power lawyers to ensure their lazy worthless children graduated high school even after never attending a single class and  every now and then.

With that being said, I have devised some rather nifty ways to excite your kids about cleaning up *their* messy room!

So let's begin!

11.) Give them brooms so they can pretend they're Harry Potter zooming around.

I kid you not – this actually did work wonders back when Harry Potter was more popular than honey-frosted Sugar Bombs cereal!

Especially the music from HP3, The Flight of BuckBeak! 

I mean, let's be serious – can you imagine how much energy is expended if they're cleaning to the tune of:

If only my cubs were still into Harry Potter these days….  🙂


10.) Make up a rousing story

If your cubs are of the more tender years, you can make cleanup time, story-time, and include them as an interactive character.

For example, you can set the stage of your kid, AKA the Fearless Knight or the Shining Prince, has just realized the noble King of Candyland will be visiting his or her house.  But hark! The castle is being smothered by The Icky Messy Messes!  It must be saved!

Or else the houses' condition will be twittered all across the land…..  🙂

'Course, if that doesn't work, you can always:

9.) Introduce them to the Big Ginormous Garbage Bag of Doom!

This is one of my personal favorites.

I tell HS1 and HS2 that if I find anything napping on their floor, into the BGGBoD it goes, never to be seen again!

You'd think they'd be worried….

The next day, the toys are still there, I remove them promptly, and the boys….never speak of them again.

Heck, they never even notice they're missing.

Why, they probably think "Oh goodie goodie goodie goodie, my floor is neat!"

Go figure.

Here's a nifty idea my daughters devised and the boys now adore:

8.) Use that cute shrieking timer in Charades

Whenever they have to clean up their closet or their bedrooms, they'll pick a card from Charades, set the timer, and somehow (don't ask me how!), play the game *while* cleaning up their mess.

Perhaps they pull in invisible helpers from another space-time dimension?

If that doesn't work, they can:

7.) Imitate their favorite character as they clean

How would Spongebob Squarepants clean up this particular mess?

Or the Green Lantern?

Or Macgyver?  (okay, that's my personal fav….)

They can take on their favorite character persona and make up a play, an adventure, anything that compels their mess into a suitable receptacle (like the trashcan!).

That leaves 'em cold?  Consider next – you can:

6.) Break up cleaning time in manageable chunks

They clean for 10 minutes and then take a 10 minute break.

Then they start again.  And break again.

And start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and start again and break again and….

Get the idea?  You definitely do have to follow up on them during their breaks, mind you, but indeed, breaking things down into smaller joys of time can work wonders.

Here's one of my favorite tips:

5.) Put stalwart brave brooms in every room

I kid you not.

Your local dollar store probably has brooms at a dollar each…spend 10 dollars and install a broom (or maybe 92) in each room.

The challenge you'll run face-first into, mind you, is your kids will eat the brooms.


It never fails to amaze me – I'll buy bunches of brooms and one week later, there are zero in sight – it's as if they all decided to attend the Tremendously Massive Broom Migration to the Land of Invisibility.


So I just buy more brooms.  I'll bet that someday, an army of zombie brooms will emerge from the woodwork and attack the hardwood floor.  And maybe the ceiling too.  You know zombies.

One really super tip I actually can share that really does work (especially if you brainwash your child) is to:

4.) Set up a morning and evening cleaning routine

Getting ready to go to school?

  • Broom around your desk!

Getting ready to go to bed?

  • Did you finish your cleaning chores?

Again, this does require a vast amount of followup (which is one reason why it fails quite often wtih my clan) but hey.

Hope springs eternal and all that jazz!

When your cubs grow older, you can:

3.) Explain the secret miracles of "right angles"

Have you ever noticed how, well, *neat* things look if they're at right angles to one another?

Heck, you could have The Spagetti Explosion of Doom and if those limp pasta strands were quick-frozen into right angles, they'd look perfectly in place.

So your cubs could line their books up at right angles, put their pencils/pens at right angles, soak their clothing in water, freeze it in the freezer in right angles, and then put *that* at right angles, etc.etc.etc.

True, it's just a bandaid to cover the gaping suppurating sore of solid shambles, but hey.

Sometimes living in your own delusional world can make things go real good, y'know?  🙂

But what if you're serious and really want to get things done? 

Your next move is to:

2.) Tell them they're part of Team Clean, the Stupendous Superheros of Spic and Spanness!

If you're really enterprising, you can create t-shirts that say, Team Clean!

That's easy to do – simply design them on your computer and print them out on t-shirt transfer paper.  Voila – a Team Clean uniform that is only worn during the special occasions of helping Mom and Dad retain their sanity!

And finally, my number 1 breathtaking way to excite kids about cleaning is:

NOTE!1.) Praise them to the skies!

It makes sense, doesn't it?

You can certainly cause your children to view cleaning as a horrendously awful chore….but why be so hard-buttocked about it?

Tell them before they clean that you are rooting for them!

Tell them while they're cleaning that they're doing a spiffy job!

And praise them to the skies once the whole agonizing soul-searing adventure is finally over.

End result?

They'll feel great about themselves (Mom and Dad thanked us!)….

And you'll still retain hair that hasn't gone gray.

A definite win-win, wouldn't you say?  🙂

Parent powerfully,

— MamaBear