Today’s kids expect their rooms to look like a movie set, complete with coordinated furniture, a mix of plush fabrics, matching sheets, and an appropriate theme. (Don’t forget the theme!)

This is thanks largely to savvy-in-design stores like Target, decades of increasingly innovative home improvement shows, and a run of hit Disney Channel TV shows, all of which showcase impeccable examples of a modern ideal.

When I was a kid, my bedroom decor consisted of a shag rug, a few mismatched throw pillows, and a paint color that strategically clashed with all of the above. The comforter was a hand-me-down; the curtains were retrofitted from an old set of Mom’s sheets.

But hey, it was the 1970s. Can you imagine the response such a room would get from kids today?

We all want our kids to be happy with their bedrooms. I firmly believe that the happier my kids are with their rooms, the better they will sleep and the more likely they’ll be to meticulously complete their homework each night. Hey, a mom can dream.

But you don’t have to break the bank to give your kids a room worth bragging about. The key is helping them express themselves, and then getting creative with the furnishings to do it.

First, pick a theme — but not a theme like the face of a “Monster’s Inc” critter on every pillow and accessory. A theme is something that has meaning to your child, and can be carried throughout several elements of a room.

For several teen girls I know, this translates to horses. Who can argue with horses? They are regal, elegant, and goofy all at the same time. Plus, a love of horses — and riding — makes it easy to decorate a room.

String up all those hard-won show ribbons across a wall, and you have a major decorative focal point, in rainbow hues, that is both pretty and sentimental. Frame a few pictures of horses running across a field, or your child taking a lesson, then add a stuffed or plastic model horse on a bookshelf for good measure. Voila, you have a simple, themed room that expresses your child’s personality, and was thrown together from materials on-hand.

In a Marvel-movie-obsessed boy’s room, you might frame vintage comic book covers in rows around the room, or along a single wall. If geology is his passion, how about displaying his rock collection in a shadow box hung on the wall? Hockey? Pin up his jerseys in a row over the bed, and top them with a pair of crossed hockey sticks.

Whatever sport, toy, or activity is the object of their affection is fair game for your kids’ rooms. Once you wrap your head around this decorating concept, the ways to personalize your child’s bedroom are virtually endless.

Tips from a Design Diva
Theresa Clement, of MyFixItUpLife.com, is the mom of a 7-year-old and a teenager. She lives to dream up creative ideas and build them with her contractor-husband, Mark, and she’s a pro at finding creative solutions for common decorating challenges. Here are some of her favorite ways to add personalized touches to a child’s bedroom.

Add a slogan: Young or old, many kids — girls especially — love to express themselves with a changing array of sayings on theirs walls. “Slogans are kind of the kid version of a brand statement,” says Theresa Clement. Writing one on a painted two-by-four lets you swap the phrase out as her moods, and loves, change over time.

Display a collection: Clement’s young son has “every Matchbox car ever created.” Placing them on a wall-mounted display rack gets them out of a jumbled heap, and within easy reach. “It also lets kids experience their toys in a different way — vertically.”

Personalize the linens: Let kids get creative with fabric paints by using their handprints or sketches to decorate a simple white bedspread or curtains. They get a fun and personalized room statement, and you’ll get a fabulous memento for down the road. “These projects are a snapshot in time, and way better than just about anything,” Clement says. Bonus: Turn the project 3-D with dimensional fabric paints.

Show your colors: Since almost every kid’s toy comes in a rainbow of colors these days — from Barbies, to balls, to books — grouping toys by color, type, and size is a great way to organize them, says Clement. “Such visual organization also instills a sense of calmness,” she says. A win-win.

Write on the wall: Nothing stokes children’s creativity like scribbling artwork across a large space. So why not paint a wall in their room with whiteboard or chalkboard paint, and let them have at it? The resulting masterpieces may even surprise you in their depth and professionalism. “Just make sure they know the wall-writing stays only in that spot!” Clement says.

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