Cleanliness in Children

Should I fight to keep my son's room clean?

Question

My son just won’t keep his room clean. Is this a battle worth fighting? Should I just close the door?

Answer

When we hit the wall of conflict over an issue with our child it can be a good time to take a few steps back to assess the health of the relationship. How is the relationship going overall? Are you spending enough quality and quantity of time with your teen? Are you talking to each other? Is there mutual respect and good boundaries? Do you pray together when appropriate and is this a positive experience? We have found when these relational essentials are in place and being practiced we parents have much more influence in our teen’s decisions.

When it comes to the clean room issue most parents vacillate between two extremes. Some are convinced that the room should be kept perfectly clean and others are convinced that it is a “battle” that isn’t worth fighting. The good news is that there is a lot of room between those two extremes.

At the outset you need to be clear about what is driving your concern for a clean room. Is it about your needs, your son’s needs, or both? How would a clean room be helpful for you and how would it be helpful for him. Do most kids his age keep their rooms clean at the same level you are expecting from him? How clean is clean?

When a child goes away to school and certainly when they begin to work they will benefit from having developed certain skills of organization and cleanliness. Some of these skills are best learned before they go to school and before they assume their first significant employment.

We encouraged one couple to make a list of the pros and cons of keeping a clean room and a dirty room and ask their child (in this case it was a daughter) to do the same. They agreed on a time that would be good for all of them to sit down and discuss the lists. They asked their daughter to go first. The listened without interrupting. They asked questions to clarify her ideas and concerns and when she was finished they asked if she thought they had listened and had at least a basic understanding of her position.

The amazing thing is that after she had shared and before they had a chance to get to their lists the daughter said that she saw the values of their concerns and they were able to negotiate an agreement that represented a win-win for all of them.

If the only consequences of a dirty room were those experienced by the child then that would be one thing. However, when a room is a mess it’s easy for things to get lost, clean things to be mixed in with dirty things, valuable things to be broken when they are stepped on after being buried in one or two dirty pairs of underwear. Some parents allow their kids to do what they want in their room, but if they leave anything lying around the house it disappears. The first time it disappears for a week. The second time it disappears for a month. If there is a third time it disappears forever with no explanation given.

Remember that how you do this is important. While the issue at hand is the state of his room the bigger issue is how you deal with differences with a child who is becoming an adult and needs to learn how to become independent and develop his own decision-making abilities. This is a great opportunity to model healthy and biblically-consistent ways to resolve conflicts. That is an invaluable skill for a parent to pass on to a child.

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