5 Ways to Get Children Started Cleaning

It's never too early to instill good habits.
It's never too early to instill good habits.

Let's face it, there aren't many adults who embrace an afternoon of cleaning chores, but someone has to do it. Getting kids to tackle the dusting or washing with good grace is probably going to be a challenge at first, but it's still an objective worth fighting for. One of the goals of parenting is to teach children to be responsible and self-sufficient. If you reap the cleanliness benefits of showing your child how to use the vacuum cleaner or the dishwasher, so much the better. Housework has become an equal opportunity task, and boys, girls, men and women are all encouraged to fold, polish and clear away the clutter. But where do you begin?

Start Early

You may have discovered that very young children have a pretty democratic sense of what's entertainment and what isn't. As your toddler happily bangs wooden spoons on your pot lids, consider turning her limitless curiosity and endless supply of energy into a few helpful habits. Wait a few years to start asking her to dust the furniture or put her discarded toys in the toy basket and she may rebel, but start introducing her to a few simple chores early, and by the time she realizes they're work and not play, she'll already have developed some tidy habits.

Keep your requests age-appropriate, though, and offer regular, gentle reminders. Give your child a designated spot for her toys and encourage her to put one toy back before selecting another. Children learn by repetition, but keep it lighthearted or she may realize there's more going on than meets the eye.

Set a Good Example
Kids love to mimic what you're doing.
Kids love to mimic what you're doing.
Polka Dot/Thinkstock

This can be a tough one. When you're exhausted and still have to fix dinner and put away the laundry, it's easy to postpone other chores. Your son is probably watching, though, and the extra minutes you take to put those slippers back in the closet or stuff that dirty towel in the hamper will teach him by example.

Now, the next time you mention that his books belong in the shelves and not on the floor, he'll remember your actions and be more likely to oblige without a fuss. And as much as you don't want to do it right now, that will be one less chore piling up for you to do later on.

Make it a Game

If you've ever sweated to a dance exercise video, you know that making a chore into a game really works. Ask your kids to dust your hardwood floors by skating around them in a pair of "cleaning" socks. You'll be foiling the dust bunnies and showing your youngsters that housework doesn't have to be dull. Fold laundry to the "same and different" game. Have your child find and match his clothing items, fold them and place them in a child-sized laundry basket. Start with socks and move up to tees and pants. You'll be spending quality time with your child and teaching him how to dress himself more intuitively and fold laundry all at the same time. Start looking at chores as opportunities to create cleaning games for your kids to play. They'll use up excess energy and be more responsible around the house.

Keep it Manageable
I don't think he'll be able to reach the top of the car.
I don't think he'll be able to reach the top of the car.

Small hands and bodies have limitations, and your child's attention span may not be geared to all of the tasks you'd like him to perform. Safety can be an issue as well. Before you start doling out chores, define what's appropriate and what isn't. Young children shouldn't be carrying or cleaning breakable objects, and even older children should be exempt from using harsh cleaning solvents or potentially dangerous tools. Once you determine that a task is safe, try to assess how long it will take and how potentially frustrating it will be for your child to complete.

Children do best with chores that are short in duration or that can be done in a number of easy, satisfying steps. The older the child, the more he can be expected to do, but you're the best judge of his ability to complete an assigned task successfully. Even though getting the chore finished is important, giving your child a sense of accomplishment and mastery over the task is important, too. One way to be sure you're doing your part is to inventory the supplies he'll need and make sure everything is available and ready to go.

Be Instructive and Consistent

Children need to be taught how to perform chores just the way they're taught to walk and dress themselves. If you want your older child to clean the toaster, explain that it will have to be unplugged as a safety precaution. Show him how to open the crumb door. Discuss the most efficient way to dispose of the crumbs, like on a paper towel or in the sink. Supervise him the first time or two or until you're confident he knows the best and safest way to do the job.

Once you have a level of confidence that he can do the task, give him ownership of it and be consistent. Don't get frustrated and do the job yourself. Don't yell. If he forgets more than a couple of times, provide him with a chore calendar, and give him the task of planning out his chores ahead of time. When your child does perform a chore correctly and on time, praise him and let him know you appreciate his help. All kids, young and older, want to feel capable, needed and appreciated -- even when it comes to cleaning.


Quiz: Do I Really Have to Wash This?

Quiz: Do I Really Have to Wash This?

Take this HowStuffWorks quiz to find out your how your cleaning skills stack up.

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