Anybody who knows me will tell you I am not the world’s greatest housekeeper. Far from it in fact! When I found the Pinterest trick for cleaning your stovetop pieces, I had to soak mine twice. No one will ever accuse me of being a great housekeeper. However, I do know a thing or two about getting my children to help. One of the reasons my home is never perfect is because my children help with everything.
If what you want is a perfectly clean house – then you can just stop reading right now. If however, what you want is helpful children — I might have some tips to help you strike the right balance.
1. Buy child-sized tools. From the medium-sized broom with the attached dustpan, to the tiny little hand brooms from the dollar section – child-friendly tools is what we have. One of the favorite chores in this house is using our feather duster. Nobody ever complains about dusting! In fact, a few have been known to fight over that chore! They will love to help you clean with the right tools!
2. Make a post-it note list. When we have lots of chores that need doing, I write out each chore on a post it note. As the chore is completed, the child who finishes it gets to remove the post it note and add it to my “finished” pile. When we are all done, we have a stack of post-its to show Daddy! It’s kind of like crossing off a “to-do” list at a child’s level.
3. Keep It Simple. Our laundry system has evolved with the size and ages of our family. The system we have now is the simplest yet – six large hampers wait in our hallway with colorful signs showing exactly what belongs in each one. Even my four-year-old twins can sort laundry as long as someone is nearby with a watchful eye to help. Simple systems help everyone participate.
4. Don’t Give In to that “It’s Easier to do it myself.” voice. You all know what I am talking about — it is almost always easier to just do it yourself and “Get her done.” However, your son’s wife will not thank you for that mentality. Your children need to know how to wash dishes, sort, wash and fold laundry, vacuum, dust, clean windows, and generally pick up after themselves. These are necessary life skills. So no matter how badly you want to “do it all by myself,” get your kids involved!
5. Assign chores for the long term. In order to master a certain skill, children need to repeat that skill over and over. Don’t just trade chores around willy-nilly. Assign one child to sweep for a month at a time – and then spend time teaching that child how to properly sweep every inch of the floor. If you give up after your first attempt – you’ve missed the point. The point is you are teaching a life-skill. It’s not gonna happen overnight so everyone needs to stick with it and learn the skill before they move on.
6. Small children can do far more then we expect. I will never forget the first day I took my little girl in for occupational therapy. She was almost 6 years old, and after the initial assessment the first thing the OT asked was “What kinds of chores do you have Anna help with at home? Does she carry laundry baskets? Does she help bring the groceries into the house?” These were all things I avoided having Anna help with because she wasn’t strong enough but the fact was that she needed to do these things in order to build her strength. When my four-year-old first started helping fold laundry I would cringe and re-fold things when he wasn’t looking. We gave him a few lessons on folding pants and now he is folding pants like a pro after just a couple months of practice. This is one of his favorite chores!
7. Work in teams. My seven-year-old is in charge of cleaning the windows and mirrors on the weekend. He sprays the glass cleaner and then passes out paper towels to my four-year-old twins who help him wipe off the spray. They do a decent job as a team and my windows look far better then they would if no one ever did the job.
8. Expect Cooperation. If you expect cooperation from a young age, cooperation is what you will get. I usually have to work with my littlest guys and assign them specific tasks like “Take that stuffed animal to your room and put it away and then come right back.” or they get distracted and start playing. I have to pay attention and follow through or they do not help at all. It would be easier (there it is again) to ignore them. I made that mistake with my older son (age 7). I let him play while the rest of us cleaned and didn’t notice until he was five or six years old. Now he is the worst of my children about helping and has a terrible attitude. In general, my other children have great attitudes about helping clean-up.
9. Use Consequences as Necessary. A few weeks ago, my seven-year-old decided he did not want to help clean on Saturday. He threw a screaming fit. He lost privileges — no playing with friends or playing on electronics for three days. Those were three very long and difficult days! The next weekend when he started to throw a fit my husband reminded him about the consequences. “How long do you have to clean?” (Basically, all morning on Saturday.) “What happens after you clean?” (Play with friends.) What happens all afternoon on Sunday?” (Play with friends.) “What will you lose if you throw this fit?” (Playing with friends and electronics.) Suddenly cheerful cooperation started sounding a lot easier and smarter.
10. Set Routines and make them stick. We have several different routines going on. One is meal time clean-up. Specific children are assigned to clean off the table after each meal every single day. Other, older children are assigned to empty and fill the dishwasher after every single meal every single day. They know what is expected and getting their cooperation is much easier because we have a routine. Every day at about the same time, we all join together and “pick up” the main floor. Shoes get put away, toys are returned to the twins room, school books are picked up, and everything is made nice and neat right before Daddy gets home. We do this every single day, and my children know to expect it. Routines help attitudes!
Saturday mornings, we almost always have a household cleaning time. Even our neighborhood friends know not to knock on the door before lunch on Saturday as we will most likely all still be cleaning. The children clean up their rooms, sweep and dust their rooms, sort their own laundry, empty trash, straighten the main floor, and sometimes even clean the windows and kitchen appliances. I clean my room, fold a ton of laundry and clean up any extra mess in the kitchen plus help in other areas as needed. My husband cleans the bathrooms.
I’m not saying no one ever complains, but in general they know what to expect and we work together to get the job done.