By Sarah Hamaker
Q: Our preteen daughter won’t keep her room clean. Clothes on the floor, books in haphazard stacks on the dresser, papers everywhere—it’s a pigsty. She sort of cleans it once a week, but it never stays that way for longer than an hour. Whenever I say anything, she tells me it’s her room and she can keep it messy if she wants to. It’s driving me crazy!
A: Ah, the old “It’s my room, I can do what I want to in it.” I think kids have been trotting out that line for a long time. The only trouble is, today’s parents are actually buying it.
For starters, it isn’t her room. Until she pays the bills (mortgage, utility, food, etc.), she doesn’t “own” anything in your home. It’s your house, and you have the right to set the standards you want her to keep for room cleanliness.
Now, how to keep her complying with your standards will take a little time and effort on your part, but the end result will be worth it. Begin by telling her you’ll help her clean her room. This will serve two purposes: One, you’ll be able to show her just what you mean by a clean room, and you will discover any problems with storage, etc. For example, maybe she’s outgrown the small bookcase you got her as a kindergartener and doesn't have enough room for her books. Maybe she's stuffing outgrown clothes and shoes into her dresser or closet. Maybe she's having a hard time knowing with to do with favorite things from her childhood.
Take the time to help her sort through her clothes and things, then tackle any storage issues. For favorite things she no longer plays with but is still attached to, consider packing them away in the attic or installing shelving close to the ceiling for her to display them. Once you’ve corrected any problems related to how her stuff is put away, then you inform her that she must keep her room to your standards or you’ll do it for her.
If you poke your head in to see a messy room, wait until she’s off at school, then go in with garbage bags and put everything not properly put away in the bags. Store the bags in your attic or other storage facility.
When she complains about her missing stuff, shrug and say that you warned her you would clean her room if she didn’t. Be prepared for some howls of distress but stick to your plan. Tell her that to get her stuff back, she has to pass daily inspections of her room for a month.
Some might call this harsh, but would you rather lower the boom in a way guaranteed to get her attention or dribble out penny ante stuff and drag it out for weeks? She’ll keep her room clean to keep her things—and you’ll have one less thing about which to go crazy.
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Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.parentcoachnova.com and follow her on Twitter @novaparentcoach.