A friend of ours asked this question:
Dear Team Hawk,
I am tired of walking by my kids’ rooms and seeing a colossal mess. It seems like I’m constantly telling my kids to clean their rooms. I know they’re young, but I don’t like nagging and I don’t like the hard feelings that are building just because I don’t like messiness. Is there an end?
This classic family problem quickly became no problem at all for our family. The solution was easy, painless, fast, and fun. We call it “Room Review”.
The idea began when our children were young – the youngest being three or four. We filled up an old oversized jewelry box (about one cubic foot) with $1 trinkets, candy bars, playing cards, balsa wood airplanes, Slinkies, gum, and a bunch of items that, while cheap, were very appealing to them anyway. It was a cool box and it was full of goodies.
We kicked off the program by helping the kids clean their rooms and actually showing them what we a clean room looked like to us (beds made, toys put up, books on the shelf, etc.). Obviously, we set different standards for different kids based on their ages and circumstances. (Over time, these expectations can and did change.)
Next, we had a family meeting and explained to the kids that we expected them to keep their rooms as we had shown them at all times. We told them that we were going to be watching to see how good they were at doing what we asked. We said that from time to time – without warning – we’d be holding a Room Review and that anyone who’s room rated a “10″ would get to pick a prize from the Room Review Box. And – the kids were not allowed to ask for a room review to prevent the kids from engineering a prize.
Here’s how the Room Review worked: Everyone started out with a score of “10″. Then during the review, if we noticed that something in their room didn’t live up to the expectations – an unmade bed, a toy out of place, a book on the floor – etc., they’d lose a point. Everyone’s room that got a “10″ would get a Room Review Prize.
So, each time they heard one of us shout “Room Review!”, the kids would gather around and we’d all go from room to room and see who, if anyone, earned a prize. Even the Room Reviews were a blast. The idea wasn’t to come off as if it were a drill-sergeant inspection. Instead, the idea was to have a fun, game-like activity designed to help them see if their rooms were kept as we expected. We especially love it when everyone gets a prize and we were compassionate yet firm if they didn’t earn one.
The genius of the idea came from how and when to hold a Room Review. We told the kids that they’d never know when the next Room Review was going to happen so they should keep their rooms clean at all times “just in case”. We actually held our first Room Review five minutes after we cleaned their rooms together and held the first meeting (their rooms were still clean). They each got a “10″, they each got to pick a prize, and the tone was set for great things to come. As they munched on the candy and played with the toys, they couldn’t wait for the next one!
At first we’d hold 2, 3 or 4 unscheduled Room Reviews a day. We’d look for times when their rooms were clean, then reinforce their choice to keep it clean. We’d also have a Room Review when we noticed that their rooms were not clean – thereby showing them that they would miss out on the prize. Those were very motivational. Sometimes we’d even hold back-to-back Room Reviews when their room failed – there would be another one just a few short minutes later after we knew they cleaned up.
Maybe the best part of the idea came in the attitude of how it worked. We never got angry or chided any of the kids if the Room Review ended without a prize – quite the opposite – we’d tell them we couldn’t wait for another Room Review so they’d have another chance at a prize.
Within just a few days, we noticed that their rooms were consistently cleaner – waiting for the unscheduled Room Review to take place. We even caught them helping eachother on occasion! Eventually the kids chose to keep their rooms clean out of sheer habit and the necessity for room reviews was less frequent – but still they happened. And, the contents of the box changed over time as well. It went from trinkets and candy to maybe a $1 or $5 bill or an inexpensive gift.
We didn’t have to tell the kids that we were implementing a classic intermittent positive reinforcement technique but we can tell you – it worked (and still works) like a charm more than a decade later.
The keys to the program’s success are diligence, patience, absence of any harsh tones at a failure, celebration of success and excitement for those who got the Room Review Prize, and lots and lots of Room Reviews. When it’s done right, it works. True, a few families reported poor outcomes with the idea. However, a quick look at how these families implemented the program revealed mistakes in its execution. Some parents were too busy or forgot to conduct Room Reviews often enough. Some manipulated the scoring for a false success (this made their kid happy in the moment but was devastating to the goal of keeping the room clean). One parent didn’t have Room Review Prizes appealing enough to make their kids want them – so there was no motivation to try to get one and the room stayed messy. Once corrected, the program worked as advertised.
Give it an honest try for 2 weeks and you’ll notice that the effort you put into the Room Review is much less than the effort you put in by nagging, Best of all, you will have begun to create clean rooms in a positive environment that’s FUN!
The result: Clean rooms, happy kids, happy parents, and an overall healthier environment.