Ask any parent if it’s easy to get their kids to clean and chances are you’ll get a resounding “No!” Cleaning isn’t inherently fun or interesting, and if you’re not used to it, it can be difficult. Think about what it was like when you were a kid, and one of your parents told you to clean your room. Did you even know where to start? Did it take all day to even make a dent in the mess, and did you end up getting distracted? We’re guessing that for many, the answer is that you did.
As we get older, we realize that we have to clean up to keep our homes livable and to reduce stress and frustration. However, when you have kids, the workload grows and you want your children to do their part.
Keep this in mind. Not only will getting them to help clean make your life easier, but it will also make theirs easier when they’re adults. They’ll already have good cleaning habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Here are some of the best ideas we found for teaching kids cleaning and organization.
Get your kids to help with clean up when they’re around two years old. The earlier this becomes a regular part of their lives, the easier it will be to instill in them a lifelong cleaning habit.
As your children get older, they’ll be able to take on more difficult chores. We don’t have room for an exhaustive list of age-appropriate cleaning tasks here, but we can give a few.
Children two to three years old can pick up and put away their own toys, put dirty laundry in hampers, help feed pets and make beds, and dust low shelves. Children four to five can set the table, feed pets, and make their own beds. At age six to seven, children can empty the dishwasher, sweep floors, fold clothes, and rake leaves. At eight and nine years old, kids can start to do their own laundry, put away groceries, wipe down the bathroom sink, and change lightbulbs in lamps. At 10 and 11, children can vacuum, bring in the mail, wash mirrors, make small meals, and clean the kitchen. At 12 and older, kids can start learning more difficult, adult-level tasks. They can clean the garage, clean the car, mow the lawn, change ceiling lights, mop floors, cook meals, and begin helping with home repairs.
When your children are just getting in the habit of cleaning, clean with them. Yes, that means helping them pick up their toys and clean their rooms. It means doing the dishes with them, cleaning the living room together, and so on. You can give them instructions as you go, and see where they’re getting stuck. They won’t feel so alone and will feel like you’re on their team, which you are.
When cleaning with your kids, don’t complain about the housework. That will send the signal that cleaning is better avoided. Instead, make it fun. Put on some music you all enjoy. Sing songs together. Show that cleaning doesn’t have to be a dull slog.
If one of your kids is having a tough time with a task, break it up into steps. A cleaning job might seem simple to you, but your child may not know where to start. If they’re confused about doing the dishes, you may tell them to first fill one side of the sink with a bit of dishwashing liquid and lots of warm water. Or, if they’re having a tough time getting started straightening up their room, you can tell them to put away all the toys that go in the toybox first. When they’ve completed one step, tell them how to do the next. Pretty soon, they’ll have no trouble tackling those chores.
Children thrive on positive reinforcement. When they successfully complete a cleaning task, tell them they did a good job. Thank them as well. You don’t have to give them a reward for cleaning every time, though doing so in the beginning can help them establish good cleaning habits. Your kind words will give your kids a sense of pride and accomplishment they’ll then associate with straightening up.
Most important of all, be consistent with these suggestions. If you get started on having everyone in the family clean and then stop, your kids will go back to not cleaning. Schedule time to straighten up every day, and make that the new norm in your household.