Should I Tidy My Child’s Room?

Should I tidy my childs room
Should I Tidy My Child’s Room?

‘Should I be tidying my child’s room?’ is a nagging question that haunts us as we pick up the clothes and tidy the draws. As an adult, their messy bedroom can stick out to you like a sore thumb, prompting you to want to tidy up for them. But should you? Are you helping your child in the long run, or making them dependent on you? There are surprisingly strong views and polar views on this. It is undoubtedly one of the steps to independence that your child needs to leave home, but is it worth the struggle?

This article answers the question above, considering your child’s age, personality, and developmental curve.  

At What Age Can a Child Tidy Their Room

If your child is below the age of 5, it might be too much to expect them to tidy their room. You will have to clean their room for them at such an age. We have a list of ages that different chores may be appropriate here. But as they learn to move and enjoy ‘playing’ rather than sit them in front of the TV so you can get on with it, have them in the same room, they will enjoy doing things with you like dusting as you do it. Here they will learn the skills needed, observe ‘what good looks like’ and also be aware from an early age that it doesn’t magically happen. This can sometimes be seen as ’empty family time’ but their will be lots of opportunities for cuddles and talking.

As they get to school age this should become a more formal expectation. “Every child has a different personality, which must be accounted for,” says Maureen Healy, an award-winning author, sought-after speaker and leader focused on children’s emotional health. “But I would say school-age children can be expected to make their beds, help pick out clothes, and clean up their rooms. They may need assistance at first but developmentally, they are ready.” 

Down the line, between the age of 10 to 19, you’re allowed to raise your expectations reasonably. Between 10 and 19, a child is able to completely tidy there room. When I used to work in residential homes all of the children got into the groove of hoovering and tidying their rooms. As it was the normal, so there was not a problem. So physically and emotionally children are able to tidy their rooms.

Just Because They Can Should They?

Still, even then, context matters a great deal. “Adolescence is a time when kids develop their own autonomous identities,” says Dr. Saul Rosenthal, a Boston-based developmental and health psychologist. “Sometimes, it (their room) seems to serve as a laboratory for developing new and potentially lethal forms of life.” It is often their only place in the home and it might be the only place they feel they can totally relax and be themselves. At the same time you might be nervous of raising a spoilt child who assumes that things should be done for them.

To bring this phenomenon home, let’s say your child is an avid reader or an aspiring engineer with the quirks that come with the territory. The child might like having half-read books scattered across and around their bed. Or enjoys collecting things to dismantle and rebuild. In these scenarios, what the child is doing might seem like a mess to you, but to them, it’s simply part of their personality.  

So What Is the Middle Ground?

Tidying your child’s room yourself or bugging them to do it simply because they’re old enough might not be the best course of action. Instead, you may need to take the middle ground approach. Laura Linn Knight, a parenting educator and mom of two, suggests letting “Your child’s unique personality shine through with the decoration of their room and where/how they want to display their things. Your child can have a choice while still following the agreements of the family home.” 

Additionally, neurodiversity factors such as autism or ADHD can come into play. “Children who have difficulty focusing are less capable of being able to complete a large task — such as cleaning a very messy room,” says Dr. Scott Krugman, a board-certified physician specializing in General Pediatrics. “Instead, they will need more focused instructions and/or the tasks broken down into smaller parts. For instance, parents may say, ‘Let’s start with picking up the clothes.’” 

Although admittedly, there may be scenarios where the child refuses the middle ground approach. They just want you to leave their room exactly how it is, messy and all. As a parent, you may be unsure of what to do in such a scenario. While you appreciate your child’s personality, you don’t want them to think keeping a messy living space is okay.  

The next section suggests some practical solutions for parents at such an impasse.  

How to Get Your Child to Tidy Their Room

  • Explain why. Teenagehood is a time when children find themselves. It’s a time when your teenager is trying to establish an identity of their own outside of you as their parents. So explaining why might help make them more receptive. Krugman suggests talking to teens about “how structure, routine, and organization can help them succeed in their lives and in school, and how keeping a room clean is part of the picture.” This approach is also applicable to young children and preteens. For me, once my son has got upset a few times that he can’t find things, we talk about how to organise things. I do not expect his room to be spotless, but rather organised so he can find things. The difference between the two is a matter of opinion, but they are fundamentally the same. We have a whole article here about teaching organization as some children find this fundamentally challenging.
  • Encourage them to declutter for charity. Teenagers tend to collect stuff that piques their interest. Like adults, they collect intending to use those items but never end up doing so sometimes. Because of this, tidying their room seems like a lot, a task so daunting they don’t know where to begin, which ends up making them indecisive. As a parent, encourage your child to go through their things from time to time and pick stuff out for charity. This exercise is a form of reset that helps declutter their space, making routine tidying much less daunting. They could also see them if they wish.
  • Make it a family affair. Embarking on a task together just has a way of making it less of a chore. It’s a natural human phenomenon, applicable to resolving the impasse between you and your child. “Rather than sending your child off to the lonely world of cleaning up on their own, do it together,” says Chansky. “Establish ‘clean sweep’ times, where a family member sets 10 minutes on the clock and everyone does their magic and can all reap the benefits together.” It doesn’t have to be every day, though. You can establish a routine that works for your family. Every Saturday, for example, the family can come together and tidy the entire house. Or when I am cleaning the kitchen it is entirely suitable for my child to tidy their room. This is more about an atmosphere of not watching other people work as you sit down.
  • Use natural consequences. As a parent, when your child refuses to clean their room, it can be tempting to punish or dole out a reward just to get them to do it. A better tack would be to use natural consequences where you don’t have to do anything. Knight explains how this works for her family. “We also have an agreement that rooms will not have things on the floor before story time at night and that there will be a bigger clean before Family Movie Night on Fridays,” Knight says. “We do not tie allowance, prizes, or punishment to cleaning the bedroom, but rather, my children know that we will have less time for stories or the movie if it takes too long to clean their room — a natural consequence.” 

Final Thoughts on Should I Tidy My Child’s Room?

First of all, what do you mean by tidy? A show home, or a room where things are organised and healthy? For me I would focus on the latter and, with your child and their experiences, decide what is appropriate. No clothes on the floor as you don’t know what is clean and what is dirty is reasonable. Also if I have washed them it shows contempt to just throw them around. This is actually about healthy relationships and preparing them to be independent. And, as with most things, the most powerful teacher is experience. There will be arguments with your children, set you expectations around what is good and not perfect. We talk more here about paying your child for chores but for me this is about being part of a team and looking after themselves rather than an additional task that takes some work off you.