My Child is a Slob
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
THE PROBLEM: I am worried about my daughter’s ability to organize herself. She leaves a trail wherever she goes, and her room is a mess. It drives me crazy! She’s 13 and on medication for ADHD, but I still think she could do better. It’s one thing to be like this at home, but she’s all over the place at school, too. (Late getting there, late homework assignments, messy locker, etc.) I admit I nag her too much, but I’m not sure what else to do. Sometimes I clean up after her, but she gets mad when I do. To be honest, I resent it, too.
MARY SAYS: From a 30,000 foot view, the young lady you’ve described here sounds like a pretty typical teen. Adolescent bodies change at a rapid rate and something’s got to give. Keep in mind your daughter is navigating her teen years with a wildcard thrown in—ADHD. The energy it takes to manage raging hormones—and their evil twin, roller coaster emotions—leaves few reserves for cleaning one’s room or organizing school notebooks with a different colored tab for each subject.
In other words, puberty can make a kid really, really tired.
Tired of school, tired of parents, tired of being told what to do, even tired of being in one’s own body. What your daughter might actually need from you is space. While you’d love to teach your daughter how to get organized, you might be the person least qualified to do so. Your efforts to tell your daughter ‘how to improve’ (yes, that’s what this is) are only adding to the significant burden she’s already carrying.
I mean, how clean does her room really need to be?
When my oldest son was a teenager, his room typically looked like a cyclone hit, but he always insisted he was “Ten minutes away from a clean room.” When I challenged him on it, indeed, he was, and suddenly it didn’t seem like such a big deal. How are your daughter’s grades? If she’s figuring out how to compensate for late homework assignments (by negotiating with the teacher, perhaps) and still maintaining decent grades, she’s learning how to navigate obstacles on her own.
The natural consequences of being late, messy, or unorganized will catch up with her, which is how she’ll eventually learn what she can get away with and what she can’t. Remember, Mom, it’s up to your daughter to set her own standards as to how organized she wants to be. Unless she’s suffering in an egregious way, this might be an issue better left to her own devices to deal with.
KRISTI SAYS: First of all, recognize that her ADHD is likely driving her challenges with staying “organized,” and then, stop cleaning up for her. While this isn’t a long-term solution, it’s important to recognize that in this case no amount of nagging will help her get more organized. And you trying to fix it your way is clearly causing more stress for you both.
You might think she can do better, but being 13 is hard enough as it is, let alone struggling to function with ADHD. The fact that she gets to school and completes her homework at all is pretty amazing and should be applauded instead of criticized. At this stage, she might need your help to learn how to do better instead of your nagging.
Take some time to inventory why you get so frustrated about her habits. Are you worried about how it will reflect on you as a parent? Are you concerned that she won’t be successful as she grows up? Is it a health concern? Does she leave rotting food and nasty laundry in her room and locker? There are some things you can do to help her, but it starts with educating yourself.
Start by learning more about ADHD, adult ADHD, and how people with it function and stay organized in life. The truth is, most teens and adults with ADHD can get organized, but it will look nothing like you imagine. You might be thinking she’ll have Pinterest perfect labeled bins, and a neat and clean closet with her clothes categorized and color coordinated.
But for your daughter, it might look like doing the no-fold method with her clothes and putting them away in whatever drawer works for her. It may be giving her one folder that all her schoolwork can go into instead having 5 or 6 different ones. And it might mean you’ll have to learn to shut the door to her messy room if it keeps the peace. Here are some pointers to help you help her.
- Help her simplify – If she has too many things, it will be harder to keep them organized. You can help her sort her things in her room to determine what she really wants to keep, and what’s just taking up space. Instead of getting rid of the extra things, put them away in a box for a while so if she changes her mind later, she can still access them. Apply this to her school supplies, clothes, and locker situation. She doesn’t need to be a minimalist, but many people with ADHD report having less stuff so they can keep track of everything more easily.
- Consider cognitive behavioral therapy – A therapist who specializes in ADHD and CBT will be a game-changer. While the medication can help calm things down, it isn’t the only tool available for people with ADHD. They can also learn techniques that help them focus and get things done in a way that works for them.
- Give her grace – Have you ever seen another 13-year-olds’ locker or bedroom? Even without ADHD, they aren’t pretty. My room growing up was a disaster. I shared a room with my sister and between the two of us it was something else. We had too many things and not enough places to keep them. Neither of us have ADHD. Getting organized happened later in life as we learned to prioritize our things and gained the ability to keep them tidy.
- Reduce technology time – Too much technology stimulates the brain in ways that makes it hard to focus. For people with ADHD, this can be a real problem. If she has her phone on her at school or at home, it’ll make it more challenging to concentrate on important tasks like homework.
- Let her play a sport – Playing sports gives the body a physical outlet to let off energy which can help her brain as well. All the extra endorphins and happy hormones released when you exercise have a calming effect on people with ADHD. This can help them focus better, which is why many people with ADHD use fidget devices, sit on exercise balls when they work, or get on a treadmill when they struggle to focus.
As a parent, I know it’s hard to let our kids be messy or unorganized. But it’s important to support her, teach her, and show her ways it can be done even with her ADHD. It’ll get better if you give her the tools she needs to succeed, and if you set different expectations for her than you would for yourself.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
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Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.