How I Tricked My Son into Cleaning – Willingly!

Our kids veer off task. It’s just what they do. Whether slogging through homework or picking up toys, they lose focus and need constant supervision. Or so I thought until I discovered this little ADHD-friendly trick.
Be Our Guest |
My Toy Cleaning Tricks for Kids with ADHD

Heather Gilmore, today's guest blogger, is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics. She is also a master's level social worker and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She works with children with autism spectrum disorder and also provides children’s therapy for kids with many different presenting concerns. You can find more of Heather’s posts over at her blog, “Reflections on Applied Behavior Analysis,” at Psych Central. You can also learn more about her at her website

“Pick up those LEGOs..” …Nothing. Maybe he didn’t hear me. “Pick up those LEGOs!”…A little wandering around the living room now… ”What are you supposed to be doing right now?”

“Umm… I don’t know.”

“You’re supposed to be cleaning up all your stuff that’s in the living room!” I snap back. “Now pick up the LEGOs.”

I was going out of my mind repeating commands and directions over and over and over to my son.

I thought that giving him one specific task would increase his odds of completion. Then, after the LEGOs, we’d move on to the notebooks, the pens & pencils, the shoes, backpack, and all the other items he’d scattered around.

Needless to say, things weren’t going according to my plan.

But how do you teach a 9 year old with ADHD how to clean up after himself without a million reminders and constant supervision? I was at my wit’s end trying to answer that question.

At work, I’m a behavior analyst for kids with autism. I help other parents learn how to cope with those frustrating behaviors like non-attendance and non-compliance. I am also trained as a children’s therapist. But here I was, struggling with my own child.

One day I came home from work and something amazing happened. On the tote that I carry back and forth to work, I have three tally counters. I set it down, and before I knew it, my 2-, 7-, and 9-year-old kids were each playing with one. Inspiration struck.

The rules: Each child could earn minutes of screen time – pretty much their favorite activity – according to the number of clicks on the counter they earned. Each child got a counter and was allowed to keep their own score, though I kept an eye out to make sure they weren’t cheating too much.

One click for every item they picked up. And every two clicks counted for one minute on the electronic device of their choice – TV, Xbox, Netflix – that they could start the moment they finished cleaning.

And it worked like a charm!

My son began to clean up his things and even other people’s items in the living room all on his own. I didn’t tell him what to do. I didn’t repeat myself. It was amazing!

To this day, when I get out the counters and remind him that two clicks = electronics, he WILLINGLY goes around the house cleaning things up… at least most of the time!

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