Ten Tips for Teaching Kids to Clean Up


This week’s blog post comes from Jenn at Sweet T Makes Three.


Ever wonder why it’s so hard to get your kids to help clean up? I once heard somebody say that trying to keep your home clean while your kids are still growing, is like trying to shovel the driveway before it stops snowing. Though it’s challenging to keep things clean and orderly with young kids, it’s not impossible. The secret is to make your kids part of the cleaning solution, rather than the problem. Instead of viewing them as more people to make a mess, think of them as more hands to keep things clean.

teaching kids to clean


Try these ten tips to encourage little ones to pitch in and be team players at home.

1. Start Young – Don’t wait until your kids are eight, nine, or ten years old to train them to pick up after themselves. Start when they are toddlers, so it will become a habit later on. However if your child is a pre-teen and still hasn’t learned to pick up his Legos, know that it’s never too late to start!

2. Invite Them – If you want help folding laundry or sweeping the kitchen floor, try inviting the kids to assist you instead of demanding it as a chore. Most kids (heck, most adults) dislike being told what to do, and it makes them want to do the opposite. Try asking them if you want help on something that technically isn’t their responsibility and you might just be surprised!

3. Be Specific – To a three or four year old, “go clean your room” is an overwhelming order. Instead, you should say something like, “go make your bed” and when they are done with that, “go put your dirty clothes in the hamper,” etc. This may take a little bit more of your time and attention, but it’s much less frustrating for everyone that repeatedly nagging them about cleaning their rooms when they may be at a developmental stage in which specifics are necessary.

4. Break Things Down Into Steps – Like I mentioned above, try to break big jobs down. Make a to-do checklist that is simple but at the end has gotten the job done. Completing small tasks one by one will give your kids confidence that they can do it, and also a sense of accomplishment when they look at the finished result.

5. Make Cleanup Fun – Turning the work into a game can do wonders, especially with younger kids. Set a timer and see who can put all their stuff away first, or before the timer runs out. Another thing you can do is hide a small chocolate piece, or candy, in the mess so your kids will have to clean to find it. A little bit of fun mixed in, or an incentive, can go a long way for fun-loving kids.
6. Turn on Some Music – Music really can affect your mood. Put on some happy, fast, energetic music that will get you into the cleaning mood, and motivate everyone to work. You can even make a game out of this, such as seeing if the kids can complete the task before the song ends or turn it into a dance party when you’re done.

7. Be Consistent – I you don’t care about a mess on the floor, nobody else will either. If you want your kids to learn how to clean up after themselves, you have to be committed to always making sure you do the same. Be clear about specific requirements of what must be done, and to what standard. You may not be perfect, but if you bend your own rules get ready for everyone else in the family to do the same.

8. Set a Good Example – Most of what kids pick up, especially in the early years, they get from their parents. If you grumble and complain every time you have to do the dishes, they might make the assumption that washing dishes is something nobody wants to do. But if you’re singing softly and enjoying the hot water, you just might get a volunteer or two to help. If you want your kids to learn how to clean willingly and happily, you’ll need to show them how it’s done.

9. Create Natural Consequences – For example, if your child refuses to put away his Legos, confiscate them for a time. Unpleasant as it is, kids have to be shown that there will be a consequence if they break the rules. This will help them translate seamlessly into the real world as adults (don’t clean your apartment, lose your roommate and your deposit!)

10. Appreciate Their Efforts – Even if the job was not done how you would have done it, remember that your kids do not have the same experience and knowledge that you do. If they did their best, do not redo their work (hard, I know!) If you do, it will make them feel like their best was not good enough for you. Make sure you thank them and praise the work they did, even if the towels aren’t folded as perfectly as you could’ve done. This will help them feel like their help is wanted, and they will be much more enthusiastic when the next job is given.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how to get your kids to help clean up without tears or bribery. Cleaning really can be a habit that brings the whole family together.

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