When One of Your Kids Is Messy and the Other Is Tidy
You have two kids, and boy do they have their own distinct personalities! For example, one of your kids is tidy, and the other one is messy. How do you encourage the messy one to become neater without making him feel badly or sparking a competition between him and his brother? How do you avoid the neat one from also making the messy one feel badly? How can you handle this challenging situation?
First, you should frequently and specifically acknowledge that both of your kids have many strengths and some weaknesses as well. To avoid one child feeling better than or worse than the other, you should ensure that they know that they are equally good people . . . their unique strengths vary, but their overall goodness does not. You may say, for example, “You both are wonderful boys, and I’m lucky to have both of you. You each have your own unique strengths and weaknesses. While you each have strengths that the other does not, you are both equally wonderful because your strengths, while different, are equally wonderful. Johnny, you are my detail-oriented, tidy, organized guy. Those are amazing assets that will serve you well throughout your life. Sometimes, you get so focused on details, however, that you can damage relationships, and I’d like you to soften your approach sometimes because, as you age, you’ll come to see how important having enduring friendships can be. Mickey, you are my creative, imaginative, social butterfly. Those too are amazing assets that will serve you well throughout your life. Sometimes, however, in your excitement to embrace whatever creative or social experience is to come next, you forget or choose not to attend to the details of the moment at hand. This includes things like making your bed, closing the refrigerator door, and putting your laundry in the hamper. I’d like you to help keep the common areas of the house clean. If you want your room to be messy, that’s your call because only you have to use that space, but the living room, dining room, and kitchen are rooms we all use. For that reason, I’d like you to be tidier in those rooms. I know I’m asking both of you boys to take on a little bit of each other’s strengths. When people live together, they need to find compromise, mid-ground between two different approaches. That means both of you need to move a little bit toward the other’s position. Ok?”
Second, when you hear one sibling criticize the other, you should reinforce the message above. For example, you may say, “Now, Johnny, don’t make fun of Mickey or call him a ‘slob’. Just because Mickey’s weaknesses are different than yours that doesn’t mean that his are any worse than yours. You both are wonderful yet flawed human beings. That’s ok. All humans are flawed. We need to learn to accept and love each other as we are as much as possible, seeking compromise where we can. You know how hurtful it is when you feel criticized for just being yourself. Let’s not hurt others, then . . . ok?”
Finally, you should accept that you will never get your kids to be flawless. If you ask them to be someone they are not, you will set them up for unhappiness. Instead, find compromise . . . accept them as they are, but find ways to mitigate the effects of those perceived weaknesses. In the scenario above, you didn’t tell Mickey that he had to be tidy like his brother; in fact, you granted Mickey the authority to decide how tidy or messy his room will be, but the offsetting position was that you asked him to be tidy in the common rooms because those rooms aren’t just his.
By handling your two kids in the above manner, you can reinforce their strengths, recognize and mitigate the effects of their weaknesses, help them understand that they are equally wonderful overall, and encourage empathy and understanding between them.
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