Getting Boys To Clean Their Room

Asked on the forum… “How do you get boys to clean up after themselves, or clean their room?”

Well the old behavioral standard is that you “can’t beat food or sex” for motivation. So obviously mom will use food for motivating the kids… I’ll cover using sex as a motivator on the husband some other time lol. Then we’ll see if the guys can handle the real Red Pill stuff I can teach the ladies lol.

So anyway…

Boys like food.

Room tidy routine, with clearly defining “what is clean” (nothing on the floor, bed made, clothes in hamper, whatever you decide)

Clean room = Mom’s special cupcakes / banana bread / muffins / doughnuts / whatever

Not clean room = watch your brothers eat mom’s special cupcakes / whatever


Slice off a “big piece for daddy” and throw the remainder of the baked goods into the trash.  This makes it a time sensitive offer. They can’t be brats and then ride it out and get cake later on in the day or tomorrow. If they missed out, they covet their dads piece, consider the possibility of theft, yet fear the results. If they fail the first day out, repeat it daily until they “win”.


2pm “Cleaning frenzy announced” Oven on. And get baking.

3pm Room check and reward.

330pm  Slice for daddy… throw remainder in the trash. Ignore howling if they fail. Just let their tears nourish your spirit.

Do random cleaning frenzies. It makes it more effective.

My bet is after a few times, you’ll be asked “Mommy, can we play the room cleaning game today?”

Jennifer: I vote for giving the leftovers that non-cleaning kids are not getting to the neighbor/work/etc instead of the trash can lol…


  1. What about the risk this makes husband fat if it takes too many tries to teach the kids?

  2. Doctorwidget says:

    Why does the room *have* to be clean?
    To appease mommy.
    A life-lesson.

  3. A teacher friend told me the way to get boys to behave in class can be to set a challenge; for example, girls might respond to “please be quiet” while boys respond better to “I bet you can’t keep quiet for 10 minutes”. (Note, a “challenge” to their ability, with a specified goal and time limit.)

    Add a prize to winning that bet (as in your post) and you’re on to a winner.

  4. Have to disagree with you here, Athol. Not that you’re completely wrong — some boys can be bribed — but I’m guessing that your experience with daughters is coloring your perspective.

    I have two boys — two loud, toy-truck-driving, ADHD (and one has OCD and ODD, too — fun!) chaotic forces of nature who can literally mess up a clean room just by walking through it. Their mutual room is a seething cess-pit of legos, action figures, dirty clothes, lame excuses and elaborate schemes to avoid work. Promising them cookies doesn’t work — they can live without cookies. Their interest in food is moderate compared to say video games or comic books or other amusements.

    Now, I don’t want to raise a couple of little Puerarchs, I want responsible boys who can clean their room. But especially as the older one is hitting adolescence, I’m focusing more and more on social expectations: “You can’t have anyone sleep over in a room like this”, and “do you think a future girlfriend would want to come over and hang out?” (no danger of that yet — he’s a severe geek — but hopefully once he learns Game in high school . . .). Every now and then I can say, reprovingly, “A Scout is Clean,” and get lackluster results. Direct threats of physical violence can work upon occasion, but if you don’t follow it up by ACTUALLY selling their organs to the Asian mafia, they lose effect after awhile.

    So my go-to response when all else has failed is “If it’s on the floor, it’s out the door.” Throw away a couple of cherished toys or games and its amazing how quick they catch on. Boys are highly materialistic, and when they see a very real threat to their toys they figure it out quick.

  5. Oh crap, Ian. You just burst my bubble. Damn, that was a short lived bubble…

  6. Gotta agree with Ian on this one, though I can see the baking work for some boys and not for others. We go the same route only our threat is, “If you don’t clean it, you know I will.” I clean with a garbage bag and a donation box. Get’s the room picked up quite well.

  7. Sorry Athol, I think you should stick with sex advice !
    –So, what about healthy eating and the Paleo diet? so ok, you get to eat some really bad crap because you did a job that is so horrible that I have to bribe you… (yes I know once in a while is ok, but you probably want your kids to behave a lot of the time!)
    –Won’t using food as a reward lead to an unhealthy relationship with food? It did for me! whenever I did something good like completed swimming class, off we went to Dairy Queen for ice cream (etc etc) now I have emotions tied up with food and I have a hard time feeling good without food (but when depressed I eat to, so well it is a challenge!)
    –Also what about mom having to bake the ‘special treat’ every time she wants jr. to do something? She might just start to think “Screw it it will take an hour of baking to get him to do 10min of cleaning, I’ll just do the cleaning”

    Read “Love and Logic” it is in my opinion the best child raising guide that there is out there. Just do it.
    As for how to get them to clean the room:
    “Another aspect of Love and Logic™ parenting is the focus on “enforceable” versus “non-enforceable” statements. As an example, assume that a 13-year-old is refusing to clean her room. If the parent dictates, “Clean your room now!” (a non-enforceable statement, since no one can physically force a child to complete a task) and she refuses, the child is in control of the situation. In this situation, the parent can maintain control by focusing on his or her own actions and using enforceable statements like “I’ll be happy to drive you to basketball practice when your room is clean.”

    Other examples of enforceable statements might include: “I listen to people when their voice is quiet,” “I loan the car when I don’t have to be concerned about drinking and driving,” and “I wash all the clothes that are put in the hamper.”
    It is all about give and take, learning that there arevconsequences for all of your actions (both good and bad); then your kids learn from basic consequences and how to make good decision when they are little and they when the stakes are low – not when they are teenagers and the stakes are high and bad decisions can lead to life threatening consequences.

  8. Hesedshesed says:

    It is generic, good advice. Just replace food with whatever your child wants, regardless of what it is. It is not the food that is the persuasion, it is something they enjoy. Believe it or not, my husband’s mother used to punish him by not allowing him to READ, becuase he loved to read. It is real simple: perform action=something enjoyable. Works equally well on pets, co-workers, siblings, and spouses.

  9. I think it’s a combination of food rewards and challenges (like MrBurgundy mentioned). I’m a scoutmaster, and it’s amazingly difficult to get 12 year old boys to clean up their campsites. The 15 year olds are easier, they understand the social expectations a bit better and have a better grasp of the concept of doing what they need to do before they can do what they want to do. But the younger ones, argh.

    A slight digression to observe that the biggest problem with getting 10-14 year old boys to take responsibility for anything is that their mothers have convinced them that if they don’t do it, some nice lady will come along and do it for them. Knock it off mom. Don’t bail your son out when he fails to live up to expectations.

    Anyway, a challenge is the way to do it. Telling them that if, and only if, they have their campsite spotless, their packs packed, and themselves ready to hit the trail by 8am, then we’ll have time to stop for donughts on the drive back home, that gets them motivated. Social pressure helps too – it’s no good if half the boys are ready and the other half still screwing around. We can’t leave until everybody is ready, so the slowest guy can make us late enough that we don’t have time to stop for donughts. Announcing the challenge in a somewhat dismissive tone (“I doubt you can do it, but if you can be ready by 8am…”) helps too.

  10. “Just let their tears nourish your spirit.”


  11. Fwiw, I have 6 boys, and have used this with great effectiveness. ;)

  12. For our son, it’s the bedtime story. The removal of a favorite is more effective than a treat that he doesn’t really need anyway.

    And the toy thing isn’t too bad for us, as he keeps it pretty neat on his own. Mostly because we have demonstrated we are quite happy to sell or donate any toys of his, at any time that we are not satisfied with where it is left, or how it is being played with (destructively, selfishly). Also, the new toy comes in, an old toy goes out rule applies.

    The other is that he quickly realized selling his older toys gets money for newer ones.

  13. Yep, the donuts on the way home is a Love and logic tactic, The Mom’s rescuing their kids is ‘Helicopter’ parenting vrs being a ‘consultant’ where you give some advice and let them figure it out and see how it works and how the consequences from their actions play out.
    -No favourite story at bedtime and the toy thing are negative consequences for negative behaviour, but if it isn’t set up right it could come across as Mom just being a meanie…

    Basically, here is my thought… raising kids can be pretty easy, just like being married can be easy, however there are a few simple rules that if done ‘just so’ can make all the difference in the world. Athol has figured out and coaches us all on the marriage/sex side, and similarly Love & Logic does the same thing for parenting… breaks it down into simple easy to use formulas. With a little planning, thought and work up front when the kids are younger, it is sooo much easier for the rest of their lives. And the well balanced kids is the result.

  14. We decided not to continue to pursue a “clean your room” strategy with our oldest (and messiest) son once he was a teenager. It was going to be a battle, and you have to pick your battles with teenagers. We decided not to fight that one. He had to maintain basic hygiene (no food or dirty dishes left in the room), but beyond that we just closed the door.

  15. I think there’s a number of issues with the premise here.

    First is that boys/men are on the whole less hung up on clean and tidy than women are. So it’s doubtful the kid will truly internalize a comprehensive. However, any sane person should have some pride in their appearance and having a general sense of order to their lives (dogs and cats certainly do).

    Second is that different styles of personality lend themselves to different approaches to managing “stuff.” I am not a tidy person. My writing is very tidy, and I am very dedicated to the various crafts and pursuits I undertake. Which is in and of itself part of the problem – I’m far more motivated to spend those ten minutes context-switching to another activity than I am in cleaning up the first activity.

    At times I’ve tried to become quite tidy. It works for about five minutes, after which the course of living my
    life causes entropy to kick in. It sorts of disappoints me that I can’t master it, so I’ve resolved that cognitive dissonance by downgrading my personal expectations closer to a level I can maintain. Respectfully but frankly to other readers, I can’t fathom those who are incessantly troubled by everything not being in its place. That’s just not a realistic model for my dynamic lifestyle.

    Thirdly, and this is to the point of the post, I concur with some other comments that a son is much better off learning this from his father than his mother.

    Sure it sounds like it’s about getting a cookie for being good, but if the whole thing becomes “how to make Mom happy” it’s going to produce eventual betatization or slovenly rebellion. If Dad takes the lead, it becomes “cleaning their den is something that responsible men do.” Nesting is a beta trait, but being in control of yourself and your effects is an alpha trait, so you hit both sides. (Not to mention Dad will have more realistic expectations for having the room clean.) I also like Ian’s frame of “you have to be tidier if you want to get laid” (which dovetails with my latest post at

    I am of the opinion that women just can’t really raise boys into men by themselves. There has to be a male presence the boys can look up to and compare themselves to, and it has to be more than a pass-through instruction of “do what your mother says.”

    I’ll never forget my father teaching me how to give an adult handshake, and how good it felt to have him passing on this “how to be a man” kind of knowledge to me – with the subtext that he thought I was ready for it and thus approved of me.

  16. I don’t care whether my sons clean their rooms or not, it’s up to them. If they don’t want tidy rooms, that’s their affair. I don’t really understand why parents bother about this. So long as there isn’t rotting food or anything disgusting in there, I just let them get on with it. Surprisingly, my husband doesn’t seem to be bothered either, so long as the downstairs rooms are kept reasonably tidy, he doesn’t seem to be bothered about what the boys’ bedrooms are like.

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