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Your room is a pigsty

Helping your child keep their room clean

Picture this - dirty dishes in strange places, clothing covering the floor, hidden trash, and nothing put away.

Does this sound familiar?

For some kids, keeping their room in a state that doesn’t make their parents cringe is a very challenging task.

People may refer to these kids as “lazy”, but in my experience, that is usually an oversimplification.

In fact, a messy room is often an indication of executive dysfunction, which means that the brain struggles to effectively and efficiently engage in planning and organization.

If that might be the case for your child, here are some tips that might help.

  • Establish designated spots for all items in collaboration with your child. Ensure these spots are functional, such as placing regularly worn clothes in easily accessible locations and using baskets where clutter tends to accumulate.
  • Visual cues can greatly aid organization. For example, I once had a client who made a sign that said, “Don’t put it down, put it away”. Along with visual reminders of how to improve organization, things like labels, coloured containers, and pictures showing how things should look can also be helpful.
  • Break down cleaning tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to help your child with task initiation. For example, have them start by putting only the socks in the laundry basket or bringing only the spoons to the kitchen.
  • Recognize that expecting your child to consistently keep their room perfectly clean may be unrealistic, no matter how many strategies or systems they use. Instead, notice progress over perfection and praise effort over outcomes.
  • Consider seeking a psychological assessment if your child faces significant challenges. Executive dysfunction is linked to mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety, and neurodevelopmental conditions including ADHD and Autism. Therapy and medications such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or stimulants can be beneficial. And although the idea of assessment and treatment make a lot of parents nervous, in hindsight, many wish they had sought them sooner.

Ultimately, there are plenty of reasons why a child may have difficulties keeping their room clean.

It’s crucial to move away from assuming laziness and instead work together with your child to address underlying difficulties.

By supporting them in developing these skills, you empower them for independent living in the future.

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