Your Kid’s Room: Knowing When to Let it Go

Your kid is a slob and your husband isn’t far from it. The chaos is making you crazy.


But how do you know when to let it go and when to lay down the law?

We asked John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens” for his thoughts on making organization a family affair.

Pick your battles
There are some who find making beds a necessity. And then there are those of us who just shut the bedroom door.

“In any healthy relationship, you need a 5 to 1 positive to negative ratio,” explains Duffy. “For every tough or difficult conversation you have to have with your teen, you should have at least five other positive interactions.”

Getting assignments turned in and doing his part with family chores are building blocks to a well-adjusted adult. Leaving his shoes in front of the mudroom door again, merely an annoyance. Bottom line, if you have to choose something to fight about, make it important.

Define realistic expectations
We all have different levels of tolerance and specific things that make us crazy. Recognize where you’re not willing to budge and work with your family to accomplish that.

In her book, “The Blessing of a B Minus,” clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel encourages parents to draft two lists with their teens: one the behaviors you’re willing to ignore; the other behaviors that are never tolerated or acceptable.

With this list, she says, “You’ll be less tempted to spin into a confused reevaluation of every single parenting decision you’ve ever made.”

It goes without saying that working with your child to lay out a well-defined yet realistic set of expectations for personal hygiene, organization and cleanliness couldn’t hurt.

Give them the tools to do the job
Duffy believes almost anyone can learn basic organizational skills – even those you might believe are genetically predisposed to slovenliness.

“The earlier you start teaching your child to purge clutter and pick up after themselves, the better,” counsels Duffy. Many times he’ll start with a child’s backpack and binders. Small steps that encourage positive habits.

“Set the expectations early on what’s expected of every member of the family,” he adds. “The clearer the contract, the better. That way, you’re asserting that a certain level of order is how you operate as a family and it doesn’t become a personal attack.”

Check out this related article for ideas: Kids and Clutter: Favorite Products for Cleaning Up Bedrooms.

Encourage ownership
How many times have you given up on the clutter and cleaned it yourself?

Your job as a parent is to give your children the skills they need for life. And that means letting them clean up their own messes and tolerating more chaos than you normally would.

“You are entitled to push back as much as you need to,” adds Duffy. “But only to a point where your relationship has the resiliency to handle it.”

Stop blaming yourself
Just because your child doesn’t do everything you ask, doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent. “Kids need to establish their own identity,” Duffy explains. “And sometimes she does it by piling her clothes on the floor.”

Duffy worries more about the child that is perfectly compliant, because sooner or later self-expression will erupt.

“Parenting is a marathon,” adds Duffy. “Remember that you make your mark over time and that with the bumps in the road come invaluable life lessons.” Like clothes on the floor get wrinkled and smelly.

Above all, teach by example and with lots of humor
Nothing wrong with letting your kids learn from their mistakes. So when he’s searching desperately for his car keys, remind your son that your keys are on the rack hanging right by the garage door and did he check his own hook?

Added benefit? The satisfaction you’ll get from this simple exercise will make looking for his keys less painful. And maybe next time he’ll use the hook.

“Your kids will always learn lessons better through humor over a lecture,” reminds Duffy. “Save the sternness for truly serious issues.”