How to Get Little Kids to Clean

By October 10, 2011At Home

Sometimes I wonder what I could get done if I had a dozen children and I taught them all a different task.  I imagine by the 10th  child I would have my house totally taken care of and could spare two little angels to fan me and feed me grapes.  It is nothing more than a dream.  The problem with this stems from two major issues.  The first is that having 12 kids would certainly kill me and my husband gets crazy eyes just talking about a 4th.  The second and just as important issue is that kids sometimes stink at learning how to do things that are not the fun part.  You know, they want to play outside but not help with the leaves. They want art projects but flee from the paint smeared table.  They want to help in the kitchen but not wipe the counters.  They want to use every single Lego building a tower they will take glee in destroying but could care less about picking up the pieces.  If any of you have a boy too, let’s just say he makes peeing a game and it is messy.  The gross messy.  Long story short, usually cleaning is on the bottom of the priority list for kids.

Well, we use a lot paint, collect a lot of dirt, dump a lot of toys and miss a lot of toilet bowls but hey – I am teaching these kids to clean.  Sophia is 5.  Miles is 3.  Violet is 21 months.

How are we teaching them to do these dreaded tasks?  I have a couple of tips and I would love to hear yours!

Cleaning Tips

First – taking responsibility for themselves and their things.

Have you ever said “I am not your slave?”  I have.  My mother did.  And guess what, sometimes I feel like it.  I get dragged around picking up after messes I did not make and it can make me mad.  Well, I told my two older kids to take care of their stuff including their beds, their clothing, their art boxes, their backpacks and their messes.  I was very clear and kept instructions simple.  I am not a total witch about it, especially since they are young, but we will delay play time until they have put their items in the laundry and yanked their sheets up.  I will always help as long as they are working.  You know what, this works.  They can do these things and it takes a little pressure off me.  These are not like allowance chores – these are just the basic things a person does to keep from living in filth.

Second – actually teach your kids to clean.

If you need to, teach your husband at the same time.  Today I gave him a toilet bowl lesson.  Kids cannot get excited about doing something well if they do not know how to do it.  I find that most little kids ask to help with what they consider “grown-up” tasks.  So, if you can pick out a few small things and show them the right way, you could end up with one less thing to worry about.  For example, my kids LOVE to dust.   I showed them everything that needs dusting and does not require them to climb on anything and they go at it.  I am impressed.  We gave them those swifffer wands and they are in heaven.  Some possible tasks for little kids include dusting, wiping off the kitchen table, sweeping with a small broom and anything else that is non-toxic and easy.  Oh – also – little kids can wipe pee off the toilet seat and / or the floor before they wash their hands.  It is just the right thing to do, you know?  Just teach them how and watch them do it and in time they will learn and be confident that they can help out.

Third – give them some cleaning goodies!

I already said how much the kids like dusting.  A big part of that is the dusting wand they use to do it.  It is not expensive and means they don’t need to spray anything to get the job done.  They each also have their own spray bottle that we usually fill with just water.   I am happy to go back over a wiped down surface with cleaning fluid.  They are over the moon when they are spraying down a table and then wiping it off.   Everyone is a fan of the little broom we have and they have tiny dustpans with brooms at Ikea for a couple of bucks.  So. Worth. It.  Sophia is 5 so she is allowed to help with the floors and the spray mop if I am there.  She also has an actual job.

Fourth – give them a job and hold them responsible.

Depending on their ages, kids can have a job or  number of jobs that are totally doable.  Sophia, at 5, is officially our Bathroom Counters Girl.  She also does toilet seats.  What a dear.  Basically, after teeth brushing is done Sophia takes a wipe and cleans the bathroom counters, sinks and faucets in the kids’ bathroom.  Miles can help at 3, but this is her job.  This way you never have any toothpaste buildup and believe me, small kids like to wipe things.  You could use a bath wipe or a baby wipe or the trusty water spray bottle with a sponge.  Your counters will be clean.  The key to this is its simplicity.  It is short, we need it done and she can do it herself with no frustration and no distraction.  We do it before bed so that there is no play time looming over her head.  You could have your own countertop kid or laundry sorter or baseboard duster extraordinaire in no time!

Fifth – make it fun!

When we are actually picking up a whole room mess (which happens all the time) or cleaning the whole house (this rarely happens) we like to shake it to some music on the old ipod.  My kids like to dance and sing as much as I do and it helps the time pass.  We also like to tell them how awesome they are when they do clean.  You know, brag on them a little.  They beam and we have made them happy to help again.   We do have rewards and are starting to offer Sophia some moolah for extra jobs.  The chore charts we have are not the most helpful for us, but simple rewards for a job well done are much appreciated and easier for us to manage than a big chart.  They know what jobs they are responsible for and they do put their little magnets on the chore chart, but we dole out rewards in more of a potty training type way.  Treats or stickers for a great job or extra playtime or an extra book for being extra helpful.  Incentive, however you choose to implement it, will help.  I have head with teenagers it is basically mandatory, so I am starting early.

Finally – manage your expectations.

Kids are kids – not professionals.  Small children can’t make a bed with nurse’s corners.  I am okay with them putting any blankets and pillows back on the bed and pulling the sheets and blankets up.  If I want a perfect bed, I will make it.  When my kids make the ugliest bed I have ever seen, I will gush and hug about how awesome they are.  In fact, Sophia has asked me about my special corners and baby, I cannot wait to show her how!  Small children may not put everything away in the perfect place, but if they are working at it who cares if some of the legos are in the dinosaur bin or a few pairs of socks are in the underwear drawer.  Set yourself up for small victories and rejoice in them.  You are teaching them to respect their home and their possessions and take care of things.  You are not trying to teach them to be perfect, because no one is, and then they are set up to fail.  If your small children are helping at all – consider this a big win!

Hopefully these tips will help you teach your little ones about keeping a picked up and clean house.  Now, just in case you have ever wanted a real professional to clean your house (angels are singing, right?), you have that chance right now!  Maybe you could have your kids watch them and learn a few tips!

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