Conquering the Mess

My 11-year-old daughter loves doing crafts but she will not pick up after herself or put away stuff after she has finished or lost interest in the project. Also she eats and doesn’t take her dishes off the table and unpacks her school bag and leaves it all over. Our house always looks a mess. After I’ve left stuff a while and asked nicely for her to pick up, I nag her, and eventually I pick it up myself, which makes me very resentful. How do I get her to do it herself?

If your daughter were living on her own, her behaviour wouldn’t bother anyone else, and there would be natural consequences for her messiness being unable to find things, living in a mess, and having dirty dishes. But because she lives with other family members, she has no consequences, and you all suffer. Her messiness is problematic to other family members, but not to her, and your nagging and resentment bothers you more than it bothers her. You reward her messiness by picking up after her. There are no negative consequences to your daughter’s leaving everything around. My guess is that most of your family are conflict avoiders, and you don’t enjoy the conflict created by confronting your daughter with this problem. If you prefer to continue this way, be reassured that when she gets to adulthood and has to live on her own, she will learn to clean up after herself unless she moves out to live with a roommate or partner who cleans up after her like you do.

If you want her behaviour to change, you will need to tolerate a period during which you make and enforce some rules and consequences. Because she’s a pre-teen, I suggest you make a family decision into which she as well as other family members have input. This would work better than just laying down a law you have made up. You could have a family meeting in which each person expresses how they feel about stuff left around. Then you could make a family decision about how to handle it.

There are several options that family members (including her) might come up with. Everything she leaves around could be put on the floor of her room and the door closed. You’d still have to pick up after her but you wouldn’t have to live with the mess; she would. She could be asked to do her crafts and homework in her room until she is able to put them away. Things she leaves around could be confiscated for a week, so that she’d get in trouble at school for incomplete homework, and wouldn’t be able to do her crafts. She could only be allowed to eat the next meal after she has cleaned up her own dishes from the last one. And so on. The basic idea is that she and no one else would feel the discomfort from her failure to clean up after herself. You won’t nag and you won’t put everything back neatly in its place for her.

If you follow through with a plan like this (that means all family members consistently following through on what you have decided), her behaviour will change. But it will take hard work and consistency on everyone’s part.

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