From our panel of staff contributors
You are not going to win this one without a lot of effort and unpleasantness. I would explain that I prefer cleaner rooms, but if my child wants to live like this, OK, except for a couple of rules: No food or liquids that could attract pests; all wet shoes and outerwear must be left by the home's entrance; all dirty clothes need to be put in a laundry basket outside the room; and schoolwork needs to be completed thoroughly and neatly and not be lost in the rubble. If toys, art supplies, sports equipment, books and clean clothes are strewn about the bedroom, I would learn to keep the bedroom door shut.
I think you need to take action and have the 8-year-old clean it up. Cleanliness, organization, neatness, a sense of service to others — all the lessons learned in room-tidying-up — count in life. Plus, you need to make sure nothing is growing under that pile of laundry in the corner.
"When a certain type of behavior goes against our values, we can't just pretend it doesn't bother us, at least not for long," says Noel Janis-Norton, author of the upcoming "Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting" (Penguin). "Parents start out determined to say nothing, but inevitably they end up reverting to nagging, scolding and threatening. Guiding children into good habits does not have to be a battle."
And tidying one's own room is a good habit, Janis-Norton says.
"It teaches the skill of organization and trains the habit of organization," she says. "This will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives."
Take a moment to explain why you value a tidy room and then set your child up with some of the necessary skills.
"Being organized doesn't come naturally," she says.
"Have a five-minute cleanup time once or twice a day, always before an activity that the child looks forward to, such as computer time, dinner or a game with mom or dad. This way there is never too big a mess to clean up."
"Take a photo of each part of the room right after it has been tidied. Ask your child to tell you about what she sees in the photo, what belongs where and why. Then her job is to make each part of her room look like the photo."
"Children are always asking us for something. It might be asking for a glass of water, or it might be wanting help to find the lost Barbie shoe. Instead of saying 'yes' right away, say, 'Ask me again after you've put your dirty clothes in the basket (or you've put the books back on the shelf or the cars back in the box, etc.)' and I'll say "yes."'"
"Make sure there's enough storage, and that it's the right kind of storage. We want to make it easy for our children to do the right thing."
"If your child has too many toys, weed out the duplicates and outgrown, worn-out items. Then box up most of what's left and put the boxes out of sight. With fewer toys out, cleanup is much less daunting. You can bring out one of these boxes every few weeks or so as a reward. The toys your child hasn't seen for a while will seem exciting again and will satisfy his natural desire for novelty."
"Be willing to clean up with your child if he is very resistant. But don't call it 'helping,' because he doesn't really need help. But keeping him company will make the task less overwhelming."
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