What does a tidy bedroom have to do with school performance?

Room tidying is a very contentious subject, but there is a lot more to encouraging a tidy bedroom than just maintaining a positive environment for your child. Believe it or not, the very act of regular tidying can actually help them in other areas of their life too, including school! It’s all part of building certain processes and routines that are important to their overall development.  

messy kids bedroom

Nurturing a sense of tidiness 

By the age of four, children can usually hold just one item in their active memory – this includes immediate instructions, such as picking up certain toys or doing one tidying job. By the time they are sixteen, this will increase to 6 items, maybe 7, but younger children will often struggle when given too much to do all at once. Their active memory is too quickly drained.  

Habit Stacking allows you to build up a sequence of instructions for behaviour in a way that your child can more easily absorb. This is why tidying a bedroom is the perfect example of how to nurture it. It is achieved by linking an existing habit with a new one you want to create.  

How a tidy bedroom can help with Working Memory 

How easily can your child find something in their bedroom? To recall where a particular item is within their room, children first need to retrieve the information from their long-term memory storage and bring it into their active thinking. The more items put away, the more Working Memory is used to remember where that item is located.  

Working Memory is a critical cognitive function for everyday activities from learning to reading, remembering spellings, and maths and mathematical tasks. By encouraging your child to start small and create the tidying habit, and then retrieving the items, you are exercising that same part of the brain. It’s impossible to overstate just how important Working Memory is in every aspect of your child’s (and your!) life. In fact, Dr Tracy Packiam Alloway states it is is a more significant indicator of academic success than IQ.

So, there’s no need to feel like you are being a nag when you ask your child to tidy their room – it really is good for them. Just don’t expect them to thank you for it just yet!  

poster showing a sentence about habit stacking

How to use Habit Stacking to improve bedroom tidying 

Beds take up a large portion of any bedroom; having a made-up bed can contribute to a 90% tidier room if your child’s room is tiny! Using a habit stack to instruct your child to make their bed could be worded like this: 

  1. After your feet touch the bedroom floor in the morning, you need to make your bed. 
  2. After making your bed, you will head straight to the bathroom. 

 Basically: After you do something, you already do something you need to do.

Habit stacking can be applied to all sorts of tasks, and becomes a routine that can be easily adapted and increased with age? Importantly, habit stacking means that active memory is not drained. It creates a series of sequential steps that leave no gaps for distraction in the mornings!  

To make this routine even more child-friendly, consider opting for toddler beds with rails for added safety and ease in bed-making for your little one. Choosing playful and colourful bedding for the toddler bed can turn this daily chore into a fun and engaging activity for your child. Providing a step stool nearby can empower them to take charge of their morning routine, fostering a sense of independence and responsibility.

Don’t forget to celebrate every successful new habit with your child.  

If you want to find out more, Habit Stacking creator Dr BJ Fogg’s book ‘Tiny Habits’ is an excellent guide to the science of behaviour change.? 

5 Tips for helping your child improve tidying and working memory 

Developing Working Memory is absolutely essential in how well your child will be able to follow instructions at school, learn, and of course perform in adult life. It is important for a huge variety of tasks, from remembering instructions, right to  learning new skills. 

There are a lot of programmes and therapies that can be used to improve working memory, but here are 5 tips to use in every day life.  

  1. Use Habit stacking from a young age.
  2. Celebrate each time a new habit is implemented – Dr BJ Fogg says happiness helps behaviour change.
  3. Once the Habit is in place (this usually takes about 21 days), add another one. Create a chain of habits to achieve the right result. 
  4. Ask your child to retrieve one item from their room at the age of four and build up to four items by the age of nine, and seven by age sixteen.
  5. Make sure your child feels good about their contribution. Every child develops at their own pace. Make sure you support their positive behaviour or reduce their tasks when needed at every stage.


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