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A World-class Slob


My 15-year-old son is a world-class slob. His room looks like a bomb went off in it. There are no clothes in his closet; they are ALL on the floor, as is just about everything else. I have discussed this with him many times, and have implemented consequences, but nothing has changed. This is slowly driving me crazy! Any ideas?

 I used to think this was a problem mostly with boys, but I recently had another email from parents of a girl who trashes her bedroom and her bathroom beyond recognition. I’m betting it’s a fairly common issue.

As you struggle with cluttered bedrooms and bathrooms, keep in mind that these are battles a youngster can win by default. They win by doing nothing, which is the easiest behavioral habit to maintain. That means it can be tough to change.

Management of this sort of problem would depend on several things:

  1. Does the youngster have to share that space with anyone else? (Is their behavior directly affecting the lifestyle of someone else?)
  2. Does this same problem carry over outside of the bedroom and bathroom to the degree that it seriously affects others? (Do they clutter everyone else’s living space, also?)
  3. Are there other significant compliance issues at home and school? (Are they having trouble in school, such as failing grades?)

 If the answer to all these questions is “Yes,” you have bigger issues than a messy bedroom; focus on them. If the answer is “No,” you might do what my wife, Bobbie, did with our son in a similar situation.

 She sat him down and related how his messy room actually was hurting their relationship. She explained that she didn’t relish being on his case about picking up his clothes and keeping his room clean enough so his friends didn’t have to get tetanus shots just to visit him.

 She made him this deal: If she didn’t have to SEE his room, she wouldn’t complain about it. She simply suggested he keep his door closed. And, for the most part, he did.

Bobbie also told him that she would wash anything in the clothes hamper, but that she would not touch any clothes left on the floor or any place other than the hamper. That message started to soak in when he began running out of school clothes by mid-week.

 Things slowly improved. A little later on we hired a housekeeper to come in and clean one day a week. Our son was told that, if he wanted his room cleaned, he had to make certain nothing was left on the floor. If so, he could leave the door open so she could clean his room. If the floor was not picked up, the door was to remain closed, and the housekeeper didn’t touch it. (Now, he liked having a clean room, so long as he didn’t have to clean it. He eventually figured out that picking up a few things was a reasonable price to pay.)

In his great book, The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene suggests that if we make every compliance request a high priority, there’s a chance a youngster won’t do any of them. Showing them a bit of space between what is urgent and what is suggested can result in more compliance overall. (He calls this concept “Baskets,” and it makes a lot of sense.)

James Sutton, EdD  Psychologist

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Difficult Child, family, Parents | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Just Got Back From the Moon!”

“I JUST GOT BACK FROM THE MOON!”  Before you laugh too much at this one, you must know it actually happened in a counseling session. I asked an 11-year-old boy how his weekend went, and he launched into quite a tale.

He told me his folks are divorced and that his father lived just outside Houston. When he went to visit his father, they took a trip to the Manned Spacecraft Center. As it worked out, they had a rocket there all fueled up and ready to go. They asked him if he was up for a two-day trip to the moon. He said, “Sure!” and blasted off for the weekend.

Although I’m pretty sure the NASA folks in Houston only track ‘em, not launch ‘em, I sensed that confronting him would not be productive. Besides, he already knew he didn’t really go to the moon.

There can be a number of dynamics operating here, and I won’t run the whole list. Ruling out thought disorder or schizophrenia, I believe the boy was covering for a sense of insignificance.

Perhaps he was really saying, “If you really knew how dull and lackluster my life really is, you wouldn’t waste your breath on me. But if I can tell you some really far-out stuff, just perhaps I can hold your attention a bit longer.”

I believe there are kids, defiant ones included, who are starving for just five of unconditional time with us. A little affirmation can work wonders, and it generally brings reality back into focus and discussion.

James Sutton, Psychologist

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ODD versus “Just Stubborn”

Stubbornness is a personality attribute while Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a diagnosis of a psychological condition. Although there’s a case for saying that both exist on a continuum of defiance, they can be dramatically different.
Stubborn youngsters know when to give it up. They might be a challenge to authority, but they seem to know when it’s finally time to comply. Stubborn students have the ability to excel in all aspects of school. Sometimes stubbornness can be a “righteous” attribute, as might be the case of a student who refuses to try drugs with her friends, and does not fold under the pressure to do so.  
ODD, by definition, can wreck a youngster’s present and future.  It’s sometimes seen as a switch they can’t turn off. Early diagnosis and intervention should be a priority.
James Sutton, EdD 

March 7, 2010 Posted by | Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family | , , , , | Leave a comment