Can We Be Too Neat With Our Children?

February 5, 2013

How many times a day do we hear ourselves saying to our children,"Pick up your toys", "Clean up the mess" and "wash your hands".

This seems to be normal and natural parental coaching, but some psychologists would argue that too much focus on tidy and clean can lead to OCD in children as young as toddlers.

Now I must admit that I, myself, am a neat freak, so urging my children and subsequently my grandchildren to tidy up comes very naturally. I have a terribly hard time to go to bed with dishes in the sink or toys on the floor. My friends and family have kidded me for years about being a 'wipeaholic'. As an adult, I took the kidding with a smile, secretly feeling it was a compliment.

As well, I am maniacal about hand washing and this of course is well supported by the medical community as touching germ-laden surfaces is one of the primary ways germs are spread.

But is this really the behaviour we want consistently in our young children?

I think the old adage 'Everything in moderation" is an excellent guide here.

Children certainly need to understand the concepts of 'neat, "tidy" and 'mess'. As well they should realize that they have some responsibility to clean-up. But this can be taken too far. If at mid-day tidy-up is essential, and there is never a mess or toys on the floor, this becomes too tidy.

Hard as it is to believe, children as young as 16 months can develop OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, a type of anxiety that happens when there is a problem with the way the brain deals with worrying. Kids with OCD worry a lot. They often worry when there is a mess and feel compelled to tidy-up. Sometimes they become obsessed about washing their hands, uncomfortable when their hands are dirty.

Again, hand washing is important, but downplaying dirty hands when the child is in the sand box or in the playground is as important.

A balance is necessary, so as strong as your need is for neat and clean, let your children be children, learning good habits along the way, but enjoying some relaxed times too.