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The Competent Parent: Messy bedroom

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Messy Bedroom

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 8-year-old protests vehemently when I ask him to clean his very messy bedroom. We argue a bit, then I go up with him. We start out with me directing and watching, but that doesn’t last too long. Soon I am doing all of the work and he is playing with a long-lost toy retrieved from under the bed.

Not His Maid

Click here to read last week’s column about dog readiness.

Dear Not His Maid,

The usual dilemma facing today’s child with a messy bedroom is that there is too much stuff. One effective approach is to help him sort through which of his play things are indeed needed, and which are just in the way. Toys in good condition can be sold off through the internet or at a physical yard sale. Or find a consignment store that takes children’s toys. He (or the family, depending how you define what belongs to him) can profit from the sales. Or pass them on to a younger friend or family member. If clothes are part of the extraneous debris, all the above suggestions will help to downsize his stuff. Lots of charities are looking for children’s items in good condition to bestow upon the many children in our community, our country, and the world who have so much less than your son.

Help your son to organize what he has. Dresser drawers can be designated for underwear, shirts, and pants, for example. If you have room elsewhere (or deep in his closet) put away clothes he won’t need again until the seasons change. Help him to find a designated place for: books, board games, electronic games, toy cars, and toy animals, etc. Some of the things that are cluttering up his room might be better stored elsewhere, for example outdoor toys (garage) and art materials (kitchen). Everything in its place, and a place for every thing. And help him choose a few treasures that, while he may no longer wear or play with them, they warrant a special place for preservation, perhaps until he has a child of his own to give them to.

Regular tidying can keep a bedroom from growing into a nightmare. There should be a routine every day for putting away whatever was taken out. Every member of the family should contribute to the laundry routine – at the bare minimum, putting clothes and linens in a hamper after use. At age eight, you might expect him to hang up clothes in the closet and put folded ones in his drawers. Start off with leaving a few freshly laundered items on his bed and guiding him in the process of putting them in the right place. You know him best. What time of day is he most focused and cooperative? Which day of the week would have the time you both can spend getting this routine started? After a few weeks, especially once the surplus stuff is out of the way, you should find you are doing less and less to help him directly.

You might schedule a once a month session to help him continue the ongoing process of finding places for new items by clearing out old items. Then have seasonal sessions for moving clothing around.

No, you’re not his maid. But the role of a parent includes helping children to do what they cannot yet do for themselves while teaching them how to do so.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com.

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