If you’re a parent, you probably already know the struggle of keeping a clean house. Children are a constant source of entertainment and adventure, but they also bring chaos and clutter to any room they occupy. The never-ending supply of discarded toys, dirty clothes and spilled food is enough to overwhelm even the most organized parent. Fortunately, the tiny hands that make those messes are just as capable of cleaning them. If you’re tired of feeling alone in the uphill battle to clean your family’s home, here is a handy guide to turning your little mess-makers into cleaning helpers.
How to Set the Stage
Be Mindful of Your Tone
Younger kids absorb everything around them, so the best way to get them interested in cleaning is to set a strong example. They’ll be watching as you pick up after them and other members of your family. Try not to complain about cleaning in front of them so they don’t consider it a negative activity. Instead, find ways to make it fun for yourself. If your children see you having a good time while you clean, they’re naturally going to want to participate. Playing music and dancing while you clean is a great way to do this.
Teach Kids Why Cleaning Is Necessary
Take advantage of their attention to explain why cleaning is important. If you’re gathering up their toys, say something like, “We have to put things back when we’re done so we can find them later.” Then hand them a toy, and give them explicit instructions on where to put it. This tactic can be used with any regular cleaning duty.
If that don’t work, try the ask and answer method. Begin by asking a question while performing a specific cleaning task. For example, while washing the dishes after dinner, ask, “Why do we always wash our dishes?” In the beginning, you give an answer. “Because dirty dishes are smelly dishes!” After doing this a few times, let your children respond with the answer. If they answer correctly, give them high-fives or some other positive reinforcement.
It’s important to communicate these concepts in small, easily understood directions. Generalizing the importance of cleaning may be too complex for young children and can lead to you losing their attention. This may not teach your kids to love cleaning immediately, but it will set the idea in their heads that cleaning is important and that they have a responsibility to help.
Don’t Make Excuses
Once your kids become aware of cleanliness, they’ll likely take joy in pointing out the times their parents aren’t cleaning as well as they should. You may be tempted to make excuses for leaving your shoes on the living room floor, but accountability is learned. It can be frustrating to think you have to answer to your children, but it really shows that they’re absorbing the lessons you’ve taught. Admit to your part in the mess, thank them for pointing it out, and clean it up. This will also make them more likely to respond the same way the next time you want them to clean up after themselves.
Keep Cleaning Age Appropriate
How Young Is Too Young?
There is no definitive age for when kids should start being included in cleaning. Because every child matures at a different rate, it’s up to you to determine what they’re capable of doing. However, it’s important to start as early as possible to help your children set good habits. As soon as your little ones are walking, you should begin asking them to help with cleaning up their toys. This will be a slow process, but try to be patient, and celebrate their accomplishments. Keep their tasks simple to set them up for success. As they master easy tasks, increase the difficulty level slowly to prevent overwhelming them.
Sometimes, your child will express interest in helping with tasks that seem beyond their capabilities. For example, maybe your toddler wants to help with vacuuming the floor. Although it may take longer, resist the urge to tell them no and, instead, find a meaningful way for them to participate. Perhaps give your toddler a handheld vacuum to clean up the steps or couch. You could even allow your child to help push the full-size vacuum across the carpet. Just try to find something that fits within their natural limitations so they can feel the pride that comes with improving their surroundings.
Have Appropriate Tools
Children are capable of accomplishing most cleaning tasks if they’re set up with the right tools for the job. A toddler may not be coordinated enough to handle a full-sized broom, but a smaller hand-broom and dustpan is more manageable. Standard vacuum cleaners may be too large for small children, but handheld vacuums are a good replacement. Check out our reviews of the best handheld vacuums to find one that works for your child.
Chore Lists by Age
Once you determine that it’s time to introduce cleaning into your child’s life, it’s important to keep the tasks age appropriate. Young children can be easily discouraged and will quickly view chores in a negative light. Consider these guidelines when determining where to start with your child.
Ages 3 and Under
Young toddlers respond well to playfulness and fun, so try turning simple cleaning tasks into a game. Make up funny songs, or see who can pick up toys the fastest. Add silly challenges like picking up laundry without using your hands to make your child giggle. The point is to keep the job lighthearted and create an enjoyable experience for you to share.
Any cleaning for kids at this age should be supervised and simple. Make sure jobs aren’t too large or your child may feel overwhelmed. Give positive reinforcement every time they complete a task. If you’re looking for some age-appropriate chores for toddlers 3 or younger, we recommend:
- Putting dirty clothes in the hamper
- Picking up toys and putting them away
- Helping with feeding pets
- Helping wipe up spills
- Light dusting (let them use socks on their hands)
- Helping make the bed
- Using a handheld vacuum with direction
At this age, kids still love silly games and songs, but are also learning to recognize rewarding activities. This is a great time to introduce cleaning charts so they can see their progress. Set attainable goals to encourage consistent participation, and stick to them. This will help teach them the value of their efforts and set the stage for understanding responsibility.
Now is the time to start teaching slightly more complex skills, and give your child some space to succeed or fail on simple tasks alone.
Tasks To Try Alone:
- Feeding the pets
- Using a handheld vacuum
- Emptying bathroom trash cans
- Picking up toys
- Sorting colors for laundry
- Matching clean socks
Tasks To Try Supervised:
- Clearing and setting the table
- Cleaning their room
- Carrying in groceries and putting them away
- Removing bedding
- Folding towels
Continue to use the chore chart, but children in this age range begin to become less responsive to games and songs. Start to encourage their sense of responsibility by pointing out their big-kid status, and celebrate the growth of their cleaning skills.
Your child can now handle more complicated tasks with minimal supervision once they have been taught. We suggest:
- Making their bed each day
- Caring for pets
- Using a standard vacuum
- Folding laundry (with some supervision)
- Putting away laundry
- Emptying dishwasher
- Emptying trash cans
- Wet mop (with supervision)
- Cleaning bathroom sinks
- Wiping appliances
- Dusting individual rooms
If you have plans to give your child an allowance, this is the perfect age to replace their goal rewards with weekly payments. This encourages consistent cleaning habits. and opens the door for budgeting lessons.
At this point, children can accomplish most cleaning tasks without supervision. New tasks to consider include:
- Washing dishes by hand or loading the dishwasher
- Cleaning the bathroom
- Doing laundry
- Cleaning inside of windows
- Sweeping and mopping
Along with rewards for completion, introduce consequences for failing to complete chores on time. Limiting phone time or activities with friends can be a great motivator.
Teenagers should be capable of handling most daily chores without supervision. At this point, you want to focus on preparing them for adulthood and teaching them to accomplish cleaning tasks without prompting.
With the right attitude and an early start, you can help your child become a part of your cleaning dream team instead of the cause of your cleaning nightmares. Teaching a child how to clean up after themselves and take pride in a tidy household will serve them (and you) throughout their lifetime.
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