NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - If you're concerned that your child's perpetually messy room will cause him to grow up to be a disorganized, ineffective adult, rest easy. A tidy room isn't necessarily as crucial to a child's development as parents might expect, though it certainly does offer short- and long-term benefits.
"Is a messy room going to leave a kid less capable as an adult than they would have been otherwise? I'd say no," said educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, author of "Your Child's Growing Mind" and other books. "There are more important things in child-rearing than making sure every shelf is labeled."
But Healy told Reuters Health that cleaning and organizing a bedroom or playroom presents myriad teachable moments for all ages. "There are wonderful opportunities to work on color matching, classifying, and sorting," she says. "For older kids, it can be planning ahead, having a goal, outlining the steps to get to that goal."
And Ellen Delap, a certified professional organizer and spokesperson for the National Association of Professional Organizers, told Reuters Health that an organized room can help prevent kids from becoming frustrated, anxious, and overwhelmed.
"An uncluttered space can help them be the best people they can be," she said. "Kids get overwhelmed with the number of toys, clothes, and technology in their spaces - it's frustrating to find what they need."
These tips can help parents and children get their bedrooms, playrooms, and other spaces tidy and organized with minimal strife.
* Have reasonable expectations. Gauge your expectations on the developmental age of your child, and the child's own ability, said Healy. They might be able to put their clothes in a drawer, but may not yet have mastered the ability to fold everything neatly.
* Create a base line. Twice a year, work with your children to do a major organizing and decluttering of the room, to remove items that are outgrown or less used, said Delap. This makes it easier to maintain.
* Assign zones. Think about the various activities that take place in your child's space: homework, playing with toys, using media. Group the items needed for each activity together so that the child has easy access to take them out and put them away.
* Create a family standard operating procedure. Delap believes that every family has its own "standard operating procedure" - a certain expectation of cleanliness. For some families it might mean no clothes on the floor, for others, it might mean a bed that's made daily. Stick with this expectation and make sure that parents are modeling the procedure each day.
* Make it fun and achievable. If you play music while you're in cleanup mode, or set a timer for five minutes a day, or offer an incentive such as a small allowance, cleaning will not seem as onerous.
* Invest in organizing tools. Look into bins, boxes, and other storage tools that can contain toys, clothes, and other items in a way that's easy to access. And don't forget underutilized places - under-bed bins, hanging baskets, and organizers for back of the door, can drastically increase storage space.
So while parents shouldn't worry that they're dooming their children to life as a slob if they don't clean their rooms, it can't be overlooked that helping them develop some habits of tidying and organizing can't hurt. "What this offers is an opportunity for you to help your child shape their adult attitudes as well as their adult habits," says Healy.