Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why Do Children Keep their Rooms Clean?

Are most kids intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to keep their rooms clean?

A little Psychology 101 –

Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to do something just to do it (an end in itself).

Extrinsic motivation is doing something in order to obtain or gain something else (a means to an end).

Santrock, J. (2004). Child Development, 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

So now, would you say more kids are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?

I personally am mixed in my response.

I was one of those kids who kept a very tidy room. Ask my sisters, I’m sure it made them sick. Everything had a place. I could always tell if someone had been in my room because things would have been out of place. I was one of “those” kids who would rush home to do my homework after elementary and middle school so I could organize some aspect of my room (yes, I know I was a loser). I would have to say that I kept my room clean for no other reason than I liked having a clean room. That’s intrinsic motivation.

I have come to the realization that not all kids are like I was. Some fall into the “extrinsically motivated” category and need a little push in order to get their rooms clean. Some examples of extrinsic motivators might be an allowance, reward chart, empty threats, punishment, etc. You get the idea.

My kids fall into this second camp. They have better things to do than to organize their rock collections ten times a day and make sure the lamp on their desk is angled correctly for the proper lighting of their writing journal. They are freer spirits than I, and I applaud them for that. I do, however, need to find the right extrinsic motivator so that they will keep their rooms clean (why couldn’t they have just gotten my organizational gene…that would have made life much easier).

Currently, an if/then system is working for Jakob. If his room is clean, then he gets to go outside and play, have friends over, or play on the computer/PS2 (this one is only valid on the weekend). He has been doing fairly well. When his friend comes to the door, he (remembering better than I) checks his room and gets it straightened before going out. There is always an inspection process that takes place before automatic approval. I go around the room checking under the desk and dressers to make sure that things didn’t “accidentally” find their way under them instead of away where they go. Jake’s doing great with this system, so I think for him, it will stay. I guess technically keeping a clean room qualifies for Chore Wars points, so he is also getting an allowance for his cleanliness as well (that is when we remember to add up our Chore Wars points…I’m designing a new chore system…I’ll keep you updated).

The if/then system is not working for Jolie. That is probably because she doesn’t have a close friend in the area to play with like Jake does, so she doesn’t care if she has to stay inside or in our yard. She also doesn’t care about getting an allowance, most likely because she is still somewhat young for an allowance. I’m not a big fan of reward charts, but if I have to resort to one I will. Physical punishment is not on my “To Do” list, so that is out. That only leaves empty threats. I’m pretty good at those…“If you don’t clean up your toys by X time I’m going to take them away/donate them/sell them/throw them away.” I know, I know. Not the best technique, but sometimes I just fly by the seat of my pants.

Well, tonight, those empty threats materialized into actual consequences. I told her that the toys that were out on her floor at 8pm were going to be taken away. She then said to me, “I’ll just buy them back from you like I did last time.” (Yes, last time I had her pay me $1 from her allowance to get her toys back.) So, at 8pm I went through her room and picked up three colorful bins full of toys (you know, the large ones that sit at an angle in that shelvey thing that I think many of us have). I know if I had been her, I would have been running around the room picking up toys as fast as I could before my mom had snatched them up…especially my most prized toys. Nope, not Jolie. I was irked that she thought she could just buy her way out of having to clean up after herself. Well, (probably) not this time! I hate to get rid of perfectly good toys, so throwing them away isn’t an option. I will probably go through them myself and let her “buy” back some of the more important toys from me (her LeapPad, Littlest Pet Shop pets, etc.), but not for a while. I’m going to see if she really misses her toys before I decide which ones she really needs back.

I’ve heard of other families who have had each child write down their top 10 toys (in order) and gathered up everything else and boxed it away. If it wasn’t needed or asked for after a set amount of time (not sure if it was weeks/months/year), it was sold or donated. That might be an option for us. We’ll see.

I’d like to see a reduction in the amount of toys we have around our place. Hopefully we can make a move from quantity to quality and nip our messy bedroom troubles in the bud.

1 comment:

EEMA4U5 said...

GOOD LUCK!! You know from whence all my kids come yet I have only one that kept/keeps their room clean. I have friends that don't believe I have a teenager living with me. That teenager has friends that tell her to cut it (keeping her room immaculate) out because their mothers are doing the "Why can't you .....". It's great BUT, notice BIG BUT she does very little anywhere else. Now there is a caveat here- UNLESS I AM NOT FEELING WELL, then she is an angel. Another taking the good with the bad.