How to Get Your Child to Clean Their Room; Scaffolding Techniques

Throughout the day we are continually doing tasks that are too difficult to get our children involved in…but are they really? My three year old puts away all her clothing and cleans both her and her brother’s room when prompted, but it was not long ago that I was doing all this for her. So what changed?  Of course she got older, however I remember a pivotal moment when I asked her to help in a frustrated tone and she responded ‘but mom I don’t know how.’ Now that’s the key! She has watched me clean up a million times but I had never slowed down enough to teach her. Right then and there I sat down in the middle of her floor and “coached” her through it.


This is the perfect example of how scaffolding works. You coach your children and give them the tools they need to solve the problem. Then slowly, over time, take those tools away. It is surprising how quickly a child will understand and be able to do a task independently. Think of scaffolding as a stepping stool… something your children need to achieve independence until they grow and push it away.

As I sat on the floor I watched her pick up each toy, some she immediately put away and some she hesitated. When she hesitated I would ask ‘where does that live? Which other toys does that go with?’ She was always able to connect her toy with another toy. Think of this question as giving her a hint.

I noticed, like all humans looking at a daunting task, she would get overwhelmed. I asked her to focus on one part of her room at a time; while putting away her toys she should leave the books and clothing where they were.

Together, we created special homes for certain toys. That way she felt a sense of responsibility and independence in choosing where her things should go.

The next time we needed to clean her room, I again sat on the floor. She still needed coaching, but a lot less. By the third time I would routinely check on her every five minutes. By the fourth time I added putting away her clothing by showing her what belongs in each drawer and making piles accordingly. Throughout the whole process I continually praised her and gave positive reinforcement.

Scaffolding is a very simple skill and can be used in a great many ways to encourage your children to become more independent. Because each child is different and needs varying levels of support it is important to observe you child first and focus on their strengths and weaknesses. By offering your children the tools to work independently their critical thinking and problem solving skills will excel.

Check out the web sight below for more information on scaffolding.
Child Care Quarterly

Written by Nicole Rowley


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