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The Messy Playroom
By Lisa Sewards
The Telegraph
The mess in our playroom is
so depressing that most of
the time, I shut the door and
sigh. Then, suddenly, I snap.
Messy playroom

Last week's trigger was the arrival of a new piano teacher. He picked his way to the piano over old crisp packets, headless dolls and bits of jigsaw, while I did my aren't-children-awful act, then, with the cheeriest smile, he announced that the room amounted to a "health hazard".

Mortified, I turned on the children later and shrieked that I was going to throw all the toys in the bin. They completely ignored me, until I turned off the television. Groans came next, followed self-righteous complaints of: "It wasn't me, it was her";. Soon discussion descended into argument: " if you don't want us to play with toys"; asked my seven-year-old, "why did you buy them?";

At that point, I made my first wise move - I stomped out and took the dog for a walk. There is no point getting involved in debates that will only escalate. When I calmed down, I rang my parenting advisers for advice on how to get the children to tidy up.

How could the children be expected to tidy up, Noel Janis-Norton said, if I ignored the mess for long periods and then, periodically, made the idea of tidying sound loathsome by exploding with annoyance? I was not being positive, firm and consistent, was I?

She suggested a middle path."The easiest way to keep a playroom tidy is not to let each child have more than five toys out at any one time. Too many toys encourage children to have short attention spans. They rush from one to the other as they do in a toy shop and never play with anything properly".

Then they told me how to get the children to work.

  1. Give a warning. "Now" creates a revolt; "Tomorrow after school, and before you watch television"; means business.
  2. Set a clear objective. I didn't want the mess piled on the shelves but, unless I made that plain, they would do the minimum and I would be cross.
  3. Ask for the children's ideas on how to get the room tidy and keep it that way.
  4. Watch the tone of voice. Tidying is meant to be fun.
  5. Get the children to say what needs doing. This gets them thinking logically about tasks.
  6. Praise those who are helping. Ignore those who are not.
  7. Prevent the mess piling up again by tidying daily, before the television goes on.
  8. Establish a tidying rota.
  9. If toys are still left underfoot they can be bagged up and consigned to limbo, either for a specific length of time or until the child has agreed to do something to earn their release, such as empty the dishwasher.


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