Hi. I’ve never written into any advice columns before, but I’m really at wit’s end. My 10-year-old daughter is a huge slob. Her siblings are not like this, and it’s getting to a point that I’m losing my mind. We have cleaning help, but even so, I strongly feel she should at least try to be neater. Not only does she leave everything all over the place, she herself doesn’t care about the way she looks, and I’m so embarrassed. I would love to hear your opinion. Private Flatbush
I would like to give you a bit of insight as to how I answer questions. The first thing I do is read each question and see if anything jumps out at me. In your email, there were a number of things that got me thinking. First of all, I noticed that you wrote “Her siblings are not like this.” Although I understand your frustration, I can assure you that all kids are not created equal. It could be you are trying to prove that you have a clean and organized home, and I get that. However, once you start comparing your kids to each other, you’re playing a very dangerous game.
The second item that jumped out at me, was the fact that you wrote “I’m so embarrassed.” As parents, we need to focus on our children’s emotions and feelings when dealing with them, not our own. If your son has a temper tantrum in public, you can explain to him that he’s embarrassing himself. Remember that your daughter being messy does not mean you did anything wrong as a parent.
In any case, now that I’ve my had fun pretending I’m a psychotherapist, let’s look at your question. There are many reasons that children are sloppy and/or disorganized. It could very well be that your daughter has ADHD and is somewhat incapable of staying organized. Alternatively, it could be that she is trying to act out and she knows you’re frustrated. It’s also possible, she’s just a slob.
Before I go through some ideas you can try, I would like to point out one important thing. I’m sure I’ve said this many times, but one of the main tricks for parenting is choosing the correct battles. Whereas you are sick of the mess she’s leaving, you need to question your decision regarding this battle. Yes, it’s a battle. If you harp on the mess too many times, it might create an even bigger barrier that will be difficult to remove.
If your daughter is an otherwise well rounded and well-behaved child, then this might be a battle worth fighting. But if there are bigger issues that might be more important in her development as a Bas Torah and mature girl, then perhaps leave it alone for now. It’s okay to remind her every so often, but certainly not to make it into an issue.
I’m sure that a few of you are reading this and thinking “My parents yelled at me all the time, and I turned out fine!” You are correct. However, even fifteen years ago, kids were tougher. These days; not so much. I’m sure you would much rather deal with a bit of a mess now, than with a psychological mess in ten years.
All that notwithstanding, there is what you can do to help your children be neater and more organized.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.