My 9-year-old daughter is a great girl who's a lot of fun to be around. Her only fault is keeping her room clean. She likes to look nice when we go out, but when we get home, she just throws her stuff on the floor. I'd really like her to keep her room neat and to learn to organize. Is this a battle worth fighting, or should we just let it go and close the door?
What has been a battle is actually a great opportunity for you to better understand yourself, your daughter, and how to help her become more responsible in ways that are consistent with the unique person that before the foundation of the world God intended for her to become.
Why is keeping an organized or “clean” room so important? In terms of “high ticket” issues in the development of your daughter how high would you rank this issue? How much time and energy is it worth? Is your need for your daughter to have an organized room about helping her or about helping you feel better? While it is probably a bit of both, many parents assume that their kids need to keep their rooms as organized as an adult would.
Organization is important, however, different people organize things in different ways. In some ways the real question isn’t whether she needs to pick up and organize her room but rather what does she need to organize and how often. There are several factors that should influence your answer. What are valid expectations for a 9-year-old girl? What are other moms of daughters experiencing with their young children?
Personality type also affects how and to what degree people organize. One of our sons kept his room so organized a surgeon could have performed surgery there. Another one of our son’s room was such a mess that a Green Beret might have more success getting through a mine field than through his room. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. However, this son knew exactly where everything was, in which pile, and how far down in that pile.
What if how she organizes and what she organizes is different from you?
After taking a fresh look at yourself and your daughter, pick the three most significant reasons why it’s valuable to have a degree of organization in a bedroom and then think about how to most effectively communicate those to her. We encourage parents to link organization and taking care of belongings with becoming more responsible, more trustworthy, and becoming more “grown up.”
Next, set aside a time when she is most likely to be receptive, share the reasons and establish a minimal level of organization that is accomplished once a week by a certain time each week, i.e. by noon every Saturday. At the beginning volunteer to help her. This will be especially valuable if she is a more extroverted child. When she follows through be sure to “catch” her being responsible and acknowledge it.
Foster Cline and Jim Fay, in their exceptional book Parenting with Love and Logic, give this sample dialogue for how to deal with a child who continues to struggle in this area:
Parent: “Would it be reasonable for you to have your room cleaned by Saturday morning when we’re all going to the amusement part? Because everybody who has his or her room clean by then gets to go.”
Child: “Aw, I don’t want to clean my room.”
Parent: “Well, that’s okay. You don’t have to. You can hire me or your sister or your brother to do it. We’d love some extra cash.”
Child: “But I don’t have any money.”
Parent: “You know, when adults don’t have any money, they sell something.”
Child: “Sell something?”
Parent: “You don’t have to decide now what you’re going to sell. You can tell my by Saturday. If you can decide by Saturday that means you get to choose what to sell. And if you can’t, that means I choose. So you have a choice of who chooses. That’s up to you.”
After that kind of conversation most kids will decide to organize their room. With this approach you’ve demonstrated wisdom, discernment, maturity, respect for differences, the link between organization, and responsibility and are much more likely to have built some intrinsic motivation by honoring and at the same time shaping her God-given uniqueness.