So, now you have kids in your life, yet you still find yourself doing all the work. Weren’t you responsible for cleaning up some of the house as a kid?! Kids should be helping out around the house in whatever ways are appropriate for their ages. If you create ways they can help and make things accessible to them, you might even find that they look forward to helping you!
Before you begin throwing cleaning jobs at your kids while you sit back with People magazine and a nice cup of tea, you might want to make sure your expectations are reasonable and clear. You can’t expect your three year old to clean anything she can’t reach, but you can expect her to sweep up crumbs from the floor if you keep the dustpan and brush within her reach.
There are several simple jobs/chores/responsibilities that you can give your child. Keep the tasks as independent as possible. You may need to relax some of your expectations so your children feel your confidence in their work. If you redo their tasks, they will begin to think that you didn’t really need them in the first place. Start by setting up a chore chart, a simple list of chores for your child to choose, or you can ask your children to help you as these situations arise. However you do it, your children will build their sense of independence and responsibility as they help you out around the house.
- Set the table for dinner – Children can set out silverware, napkins, and placemats. It helps develop problem solving skills as they try to figure out which silverware is appropriate for the meal.
- Sweep crumbs from under table – keep a dustpan and broom within reach of your children so they can clean up the floor after meals.
- Fold towels, washcloths, match socks, etc. – who says you have to fold all the laundry? Matching socks and folding towels actually enhances math skills.
- Empty dishwasher – I can’t remember my mom ever emptying the dishwasher as it was the job of the kids. My kids are too short to put anything in cabinets, but they can certainly help hand me dishes. This is a great opportunity to teach your kids how to care for dishes. My two year old even puts away all of the silverware. He puts it all in the same place in the drawer, but it's a start!
- Make the bed – save yourself some frustration and make your kids’ beds easy for them to remake in the morning. Maybe just a sheet and small blanket instead of a big comforter and lots of pillows.
- Put away the toys – Again, save yourself frustration by having spaces for toys and labeled bins so the kids know where to put things away. You may even want to institute a “Clean before TV” rule where the kids need to clean before they can watch a show. It may motivate them to clean more quickly if their favorite show begins at a specific time.
Make Cleaning Fun
I don’t know many people who clean because they enjoy it. Make it fun for your kids, and it just may be a little more fun for you. First and foremost, you need to clean alongside your children. When they start singing “It’s a Hard Knock Life” or answering to the name “Cinderella,” they might need a little fun boost.
- Clean to music – Put on music and move while you clean. See how much you can pick up in the family room before the song is over.
- Race – Set a timer, give out jobs, and go! Maybe have the kids clean the family room while you clean the kitchen. Don’t forget to call out motivations such as “I hope you don’t get all those Legos put away before I can get this microwave cleaned!”
- The One Minute Tidy-up or Commercial Break Cleanup – For those who don’t “clean before TV”, you may want to assign tasks for everyone to accomplish during the commercial break. One child picks up all the dolls and one does blocks while you clean the windows.
- Give your kids a mission – For the first part of your mission, you need to gather all of your shoes and put them away. For the second part of your mission, you need to sweep the crumbs from under the kitchen table. For the last part of your mission, make sure your backpack is packed and ready for school tomorrow. How fast can you complete this mission?
- Have a sock matching game or a folding race
- On a nice day, put your kids in bathing suits, give them a bucket with warm, soapy water and a sponge, and have them clean the outdoor furniture, the outdoor toys, etc.
My house was not designed for my daughter. She is short, and everything is out of reach, from paper towels to cups. I keep plastic cups in a low cabinet so she can get water from the fridge door whenever she wants it and snacks on the bottom shelf in the fridge, but it never occurred to me to keep cleaning products where she could reach them. The best she could do for a small spill was grab a napkin or my kitchen towels. Now, I have come up with a few ways to help her be independent when it comes to cleaning up around the house.
- Wipes – my daughter loves to use baby wipes to clean almost anything. You can get many cleaning products in wipe form nowadays and several brands offer environmentally-friendly alternatives that are kid-safe. Give your daughter a bathroom cleaning wipe and put her in the shower to do the door and walls. Kitchen wipes can be used on chairs, low cabinets, etc. Window wipes for any windows within her reach.
- Swiffer mops are great for kids because you can take a section out of the mops and make kid sized tools. Cut old flannel baby blankets into rectangles so you don’t have to keep buying more cloths. The dusters are great, as well. As soon as she has that duster in hand, my daughter will look for anything with the slightest speck of dust on it. Teach you children how to carefully remove picture frames from tables before dusting.
- Set up a cleaning box or basket within reach for your child. Mine (pictured at the beginning of the article) has a small spray bottle filled with a Dawn and water, a Magic Eraser, and a small thirsty microfiber cloth like the ones the crazy guy screams about on TV. My daughter can spray the kitchen chairs and wipe them down, she can clean up sticky spills on the floor, and she can wipe her spot at the table without any help.
- Dustbusters! – Kids can use dustbusters to clean under the cushions in the couch, vacuum the stairs, etc. We have a really long vacuum hose that my two year old will even push around the house.
It may be a bit premature to hand over the cleaning while you read People and sip a cup of tea since that actually goes against my advice to work alongside your kids. You'll have to save those moments for when the kids are in bed. In any case, you are now ready to get your kids started on cleaning the house with you and building their independence along the way.
Ellen Deebel has a BS in Early Childhood Education from Bucknell University and over 15 years of experience in the field, both as a teacher and administrator. She focuses her time now as a mom to her two young children, alternately packing lunches and chauferring them to various activities.