North Coast Journal


Messy rooms and bedtimes

by Leslie Meriwether

We marvel at the differences in our children, yet we may not realize the need for different parenting strategies for each child. To make it even trickier, each child goes through a variety of developmental stages which require different parenting skills. This leaves many of us confused and wondering what to do next.

Remembering each individualÕs abilities, personality and stage of development is where you start. I will use two of the areas most frequently mentioned in counseling sessions involving parents and children: messy rooms and bedtime.

It would seem that older children should have later bedtimes, for instance, but often teens need more sleep than preteens. How rested do your children seem in the morning? Are they doing well in school? Healthy? How active are they during the day? How much stress are they experiencing?

All of these concerns factor in to determine how much rest each child needs. Consequently, bedtimes are best negotiated on an individual basis. Remember to communicate your reasoning during these negotiations.

With young children, the issue may not really be bedtime per se, but quiet time for the family (tired parents). In this case it is important to clarify that you are asking the child to be quiet, but not necessarily in bed.

Setting a specific bedtime for your children provides them with an important boundary. If left to their own devices they will often not get enough sleep or rest. Sometime during their teen-age years the responsibility to determine the best time to go to bed needs to be shifted to them so they can learn how to manage their own time and energy.

Messy rooms are an ongoing problem in some families. How much parental intervention is appropriate? The answer again depends on the age, personality and abilities of the youngster. It also involves parental standards for organization and cleanliness.

Another area of dispute is the decor. Perhaps your child wants a color scheme you find depressing. As much as possible let your children decorate their own spaces. Even very young children can have a feel for interior design.

An individualÕs room should reflect his own interests, personality and standards. All of these areas can create conflict with parents. For instance, your daughter may be into alternative music, have an outgoing personality and be creative. This young womanÕs room will not look like your room.

Parent and child may even have similar personalities and interests, but they are in different stages of life and will express these needs differently. Usually the conflict is about the level of messiness. Beyond questions of health and hygiene, the level of orderliness needs to be determined by the occupant. If the parents canÕt stand it, they might ask for the door to remain closed. Teen-agers as they develop need ever-increasing amounts of privacy as well, so closed doors may well serve everyone. Again, in adolescence the responsibility needs to be given to the teenager.

A family I was counseling had two daughters, different in many ways and at different stages of development. While we discussed the problem of their messy rooms I gave two very different directives.

For the older daughter, I suggested closing the door. She was an extremely responsible young woman in school and in her commitments. She was old enough for the parents to know that these positive traits were well instilled.

The younger daughter needed help. I suggested rewards (or bribes as some parents refer to them), something to enhance their motivation. This child also needed some help organizing and cleaning.

A parent can offer help in the form of time or task. «IÕll give you one hour Saturday morning and you can tell me what to do,» or «IÕll take care of all the clothes.» Perhaps extra shelves or drawers will help the child create an orderly environment.

Raising children is an incredibly active occupation. It requires much flexibility and courage. Parenting is a newly coined word, and maybe, after all, it really is a verb.

Lesley Meriwether is a registered nurse and family psychotherapist with the Arcata Family Medical Group.