Managing Messy Kids

by Deb Lehman

Managing Messy Kids

Naomi Brotman, 8, of New York City forgets to wash her hands, barely brushes her teeth or hair, and tosses her clothes under her bed, which is strewn with toys, books, and other things. “I’m tempted to hang an ‘Enter at Own Risk’ sign on her door,”says her mom, Beth.

Can you relate? What you see as disorder, your child sees as familiarity and an expression of who she is. Sometimes messiness is about control, too: If you nag a stubborn kid to clean up, she’ll leave her room (and herself!) in shambles to assert a little authority.

To handle your messy child:

Pick your battles. Things like hand washing are nonnegotiables  — they affect a child’s health. A messy room doesn’t have the same impact. So if your kid’s skipping her morning toothbrushing, concentrate on that and save your criticism of her bed-making skills for later.

Make it worth her while. Explain why cleanliness matters (“Clean hands mean you won’t get sick and miss the sleepover”or offer an incentive (“When your room stays neat for a month, we’ll decorate it the way you want”).

Turn it into a contest. Challenge your child to see who can pick up more clothes in five minutes, or remember to take their stuff to their room the most days in a row. Kids love to win (and maybe you’ll get a little more organized, too).

Ignore the mess. Sometimes just closing the door to your child’s room is the best solution.