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Dear Family Whisperer: Why You Shouldn't Make Your Kid Clean His Room

06/16/2015 02:03 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016
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Dear Family Whisperer,

My 11-year-old son drives me crazy because his room is always a mess. He leaves clothes in a heap on the floor, and then wears them, wrinkled. Every surface in the room (his desk, drawers the bed, his bean bag chair) is covered with papers, toys, school stuff, chips, wrappers. I go through cycles of yelling at him and threatening to take away something he loves unless he cleans it up. A month or two later, I can hardly walk in there, and we're right back where we started. What else can I do?

Exasperated

I can only imagine how many parents will identify with this question! Kids, too. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I know from personal experience how hard it is to take my own advice!

Start by not walking into your son's room. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I assume his room has a door. Next time you walk by, close that door. Don't look in. Think about something in your own life instead.

Your son is fortunate to be in a family in which he can have a room of his own. If he had to share with a sibling, or if his bed was in the living room, my answer would be different, Even so, it wouldn't your problem. He'd have to "answer" to the whole family about the state of his living space, because would affect others in the household.

However, he doesn't share space. You have given him a room of his own. As long as the chaos is confined to those quarters and his mess doesn't endanger anyone else, then the room, in my opinion, is his to keep as he pleases.

Also, consider what's really at stake: Your relationship. Negativity poisons relationships. You battle over the room, both of you yell, he cleans, and the mess recurs. Each time, you get your "way," but your exchanges certainly aren't bettering the bond between you.

When you feel yourself getting angry about "the room," before you blurt out, "I can't believe what a pig sty this room is... again!" stop and think. Or, before you dump everything he owns into a trash bag, wait a beat. Ask yourself, "Will this bring us closer?" Answering that question honestly can help you ignore the state of your son's room, or at least help you refrain from lecturing.

If you have to say something, make it about you -- not about you telling him what to do. Explain why you wouldn't be happy in a room like his. Maybe it's because you were brought up that way or it's a habit you developed as an adult. Acknowledge that it does take extra time and effort to put things away, but it's worth it (to you) because you feel calmer in orderly surroundings.

Say it once; he won't forget. Don't assume that he feels the same way. We all have varying tolerances for outside stimulation. Some need absolute quiet in order to concentrate. Others don't notice background noise or, paradoxically, use it to quiet their minds.

Your son is still discovering what makes him comfortable. It might be a messy room. Or, not. It's up to him to find out. And if you give him a little room (pun intented), you might be surprised that he's willing to put in the time and energy to have a clean one. Or, not!

Hi, it's Melinda. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Do you have a question about your family or a relationship? No topics are off limits, and it's all anonymous. Ask via Twitter @MelindaBlau #DearFamilyWhisperer, or click on this link.