Should I tidy up after my 14-year-old son?

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    • #59731

      Hi – my lovely 14 year old son has ADHD. It’s fairly well managed, he’s aware of his challenges and overall he’s a thoughtful, funny, nice young man. One of our issues right now is that his room is a disaster – he makes attempts to tidy it but let’s face it, tidying up is boring and doesn’t hold his attention for long. We praise him for what he does do, and try not to push him to do more than he can in one session, but he is resistant to breaking it into manageable pieces, with or without our guidance. If the mess bothers me more than it bothers him, perhaps I should just tidy up and be done with it? He does seem to enjoy – and notice – a tidy space (like the rest of the house). I’m not too worried that his room is a mess per se (I remember my bedroom as a teenager!), but rather that it’s part of the overall disorganization that causes him to lose homework, devices, clothes, etc., which increases stress for everyone. My concern with that is a) he doesn’t learn how to do this life-long chore and b) I don’t want him to go through life thinking if he leaves a mess than someone (like, say, a woman) will come along and fix it. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    • #59747
      Penny Williams

      You should not pick up after your children. Yes, it’s easier (especially when they have ADHD), but the only thing it teaches them is if they avoid an unpleasant task long enough, someone else will do it. It creates learned helplessness.

      Instead, you want to give him the tools and support he needs to clean up his room, but he has to do the work.

      Put A Stop to Household Clutter Once and For All

      I’m Not His Maid!

      It’s fine to tie privileges and consequences to getting his room cleaned up. That adds the motivation lost by the fact that the task is not interesting to him.

      One thing that has helped us is to do a quick tidy each night before bed. That way, the room doesn’t get so out of control that the task seems insurmountable.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #59805

      Dear Deltamom,
      We just do the best we can and that’s ok. I’m ADD and my nearly 13 yr old is ADHD. So, you can imagine our house varies from really clean to really cluttered. Just today I remarked to my ADD Mom that I do better with cleaning when I have less time to get it done. I guess that’s hyper focus. With my son and myself, we seem to work better when we listen to music. It keeps us on track for longer periods of time. I do get frustrated with his dirty room frequently and we do take away privileges when he does not complete appropriate tasks, such as picking up his dirty clothes, within a given timeframe. About twice a year we tackle the chore of cleaning and reorganizing his room together. Usually, it’s when I can’t take it anymore and he’s not getting anywhere. 😊 But, as I said before. We just do the best we can. I do have to say that I was pleasantly surprised yesterday. He cleaned in his room for almost an hour without being asked and has a functional desk that is no longer stacked with last year’s school papers from his backpack.

    • #59869

      The only way I tidy up after my kids once they are four is with a trash bag. If he can’t stay moderately tidy, he owns too much to manage, any that’s where you should direct any attention.

      My fourteen year old also mows and cleans two bathrooms. Adhd isn’t an excuse for not cleaning just like it’s not an excuse for not bathing. 🙂

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 4 months ago by gentlygenli.
    • #60036

      Hi, as an ADHD adult with an ADHD child my recommendation is to pick the hills you want to die on. My recommendation is to differentiate between hygiene and clutter. With regard to your child’s room, let it be their room. With regard to hygiene set the expectation of basic personal hygiene. By setting the boundary of their room can remain cluttered it relieves a large stress point for your family. As an ADHD person myself I allow myself a couple of small areas of clutter in my life. Also it’s important to know that we have no issue managing clutter, it’s not a big deal to us. As maturity sets in I have found that being tidy is better but retain a couple of outlets for my “clutter is okay” ADHD mindset. My wife is still amazed at how I can easily locate items in my clutter spaces. That’s my recommendation.

    • #60041


      I agree with the others that you should not do it for him and agree with you that it’s a skill worth learning. Myself and three kids all have the ADD form and none of us looks forward to or finds it easy to keep from getting distracted while cleaning. I started consistently involving them in chores at 2 and our house has looked like children were cleaning it until the majority had passed the age of 16. Now at 22, 18, and 16 the house and the bedrooms are all tidy. There was little indication that the teaching was having any effect until each individual reached their late teens. I don’t think it’ll take nearly that long for your 14 year old to get it. He is much further along on the developmental readiness curve. It also helps when they begin to care about what their visiting peers think.

      I found posting a step by step task list for cleaning any particular room to be very helpful, even for myself. These are in each respective room, usually on the back of a door. Helps for when you don’t know where to start or what to do next. When making the lists I’d put the most visually impactful things at the top of the list. Helps make one feel like it is not hopeless. For instance my daughter’s bedroom floor used to be covered with mostly bedding and clothes both clean and dirty. The first items on her list were: 1 make bed; 2 put dirty sheets in laundry; and 3 put dirty clothes in laundry. That alone would make her room look 50% better. Tedious sorting type tasks were near the bottom. Anything that was prone to distract them was dead last. For instance one son would have books strewn everywhere. Theoretically easy to put away, with a big visual impact, however if picked up he would thumb through and start reading and cleaning would be at a full stop. Also If they didn’t get to the items at the bottom of the list, in that session, the room would still look better.

      You can find lists to edit at

      Control Journals

      and scroll down to detailed cleaning lists

      or google “cleaning checklists” or have the kid type up the first draft

      When a child was resisting or avoiding the cleanup of a room, I would ask them to pick a time for the two of us to work on it together. Then we would set a timer, for a teen 30 minutes. We’d go through the list either both working on the same task or alternating. Same task if they didn’t get how to go about it or if the task was time consuming. When the offer of helping them didn’t eliminate the resistance I would have a conversation with them about responsibility, preparing to live on their own (think roommates), mice, noxious smells, germs, trips and bruises, fire safety, making their friends feel more comfortable… Whatever I thought that particular child might respond to and if the child was belligerent I would wait until a calm moment when we were both well fed before having the conversation.

      If I still got no where, I would tie the chore to something they wanted. “When the room is clean then…” I’ll give you a ride to xx, you can use the “insert electronic device”, get your “insert some item they use in spare time” back, you’ll get your allowance… If you have an obstinate minimalist hermit, that is happy with their own daydreams then these strategies may not work until they discover something that floats their boat. That has happened from time to time in our house.

      Good Luck,

    • #60050

      I do want to be clear that I don’t expect an immaculate room all the time. Rooms have to get immaculate a minimum of once every other month (or bad things happen). Day to day, they have to not look like a bomb went off. Regularly (2-3x per week), they get picked up to 85% clean.

      Kids can’t just be told “clean your room”! They have to be taught. It takes years, literally, to learn to clean quickly, efficiently, and thoroughly. Everything from putting things away, designating places, organizing to prevent messes at the outset, learning what to keep and what to discard, when to discard, and why to discard–then there’s the actual CLEANING, like sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, scrubbing. All of these are real life skills.

      A truly messy bedroom WILL be hard for any kid to function in. It’s harder for kids with ADHD, and they’re more prone to messes. Getting a kid to adopt a habit of putting everything back will do wonders. But again, this is harder for kids with ADHD, too, because the mental overhead is so much higher.

      If you haven’t TAUGHT your child to clean, he’s not going to just pick it up because you say, “clean your room.” You’re going to spend a lot more tie teaching him to clean than to clean it yourself for a long time.

    • #60056

      No, don’t pick up after him but give him an incentive to clean it up. My son earns an allowance based on keeping his room clean – and a few other simple chores. He waits until last minute to clean the room and the job is far less than perfect but it’s exponentially better than it used to be! I do need to break the chore down for him into layers/steps: 1- Clean up all clothes. 2- Clear the floor. 3- Clean all surfaces. 4- Clean the bed. 5- Clean the closet. Usually 5 is on a separate day. He is most cooperative if I tell him one step at a a time. Good luck!

    • #60116

      My teenagers room is the mess he creates. If he wants it clean, he has to clean it. The only thing I really do is to tell him to do a load of laundry when I realize the floor is too coated with clothes, and then make sure he actually folds it and puts it away. Beyond that, his room, his problem.

      Homework is never allowed to not be in the back-pack unless he is actively working on it. That’s one thing that works well for us. If he loses a device, then “oh well”, he has lost it, he can clean his room to find it. We do have a very cheap, track-phone, flip phone that can be “activated” rather cheaply if he’s going somewhere and absolutely NEEDS to have a phone and can’t find his. The only other real problem we have had was one day when he lost his glasses. Luckily he has prescription sunglasses as well and could wear those. I’m thinking about getting him some daily contacts this year too, as a back-up in case the glasses get misplaced.

    • #60135

      I had the same issue with my ADD teen son. We took a weekend day and broke it all down. First I went and purchased some organizing tools such as baskets, trash can, containers. We went through everything and he decided keep or toss. It was hard for me to keep some of the things that he wanted to hold on to, but I kept my mouth shut and let him decide. Then we sorted through and put like things together, with him deciding where it should go. In the process we rearranged his room as well; so it was like a brand new start. It took all day, but the result was beautiful and he felt proud afterward. Then we talked about how to keep it this way. So, now I give him reminders on when something needs to be picked up or organized. This new start has helped him to keep the clean up small and manageable. Its been kept neat and tidy for about 5 months now. 🙂 Good luck!

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