Fact: Unless you run your home like a Dickensian workhouse, kids are always going to make more mess than they remove. But that doesn’t mean they can’t pull their weight and take some of the load off while also learning important life skills that their future spouses will thank you for.
Here are my six best tips for getting kids to pitch in and help out:
- Start ‘em early. The younger the kids are when you get them to help clean the house, the better. They should grow up believing that cleaning the house is the entire family’s responsibility. Give little ones age-appropriate tasks. For example, whenever we clean the main floor, William (7) and Owen (5) get the job of putting shoes and boots in pairs and lining them up neatly at the door. Hey, with seven family members, we have a lot of footwear!
- Break a large job down into specific tasks. It’s not enough to tell a child “clean up your room.” Most of them need help breaking down a big job into smaller chunks and putting them in order. When Will and Owen clean their rooms, one will pick up the Legos while the other picks up the action figures, and so on. When one job is finished, they ask me for another assignment.
- Invest training time. If you want something done right, you’re going to have to do a lot of supervising. It took me a good three months of daily training to get my oldest boys to the point where they could do the dishes and laundry correctly–and once in a while they will still try to get away with sticking a plate in the dishwasher with crusty melted cheese stuck to it. Lesson learned: Don’t expect kids to do a job adequately without a lot of up-front help from Mom or Dad, and even then, expect backsliding and slacking off from time to time. If there are certain tasks you need to have done a certain way, don’t delegate those to the kids.
- Stick to a system. If your kids know that every single night one washes and the other puts them away, it becomes a predictable routine and they really will stop complaining…eventually. Kids do best when they know exactly what’s expected of them, and moms are happiest when they don’t have to repeat themselves over and over. Don’t make delegating hard on yourself: Come up with a simple, predictable routine that’s easy for kids to remember and easy for you to oversee.
- Have fun. We usually spend an hour or two each weekend doing a full family clean-up session. Everyone pitches in at the same time so it’s a team effort, and we blast fun music to get everyone revved up. Some favorites from our eclectic family playlist: “The Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “You’re The Best Around” by Joe Esposito (Karate Kid theme), aaaaand…. “Halo” by Beyonce. I told you it was eclectic. But we have a good time, even when we’re wielding dust pans and toy bins.
- Model a no-nonsense, prompt approach to pick-up. Once upon a time my approach to mess was drama, followed by procrastination. If something spilled, I first over-reacted: “Gahhhhhh crayons on the floor? Arrrrrghhhh ughhhh meh life with kids so messy grumble grumble stupid crayons arg bleh grumble.” Then, I would avoid cleaning the mess for hours. Guess what? It turns out walking past a mess half a dozen times doesn’t make you any more motivated to clean it up. The opposite, in fact. And I realized I was being a horrible model for my kids by making every mess out to be a tragedy, and then by teaching them to avoid things instead of face them head-on. Now I try to deal with any mess the instant it’s made, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, instead of piling on the drama and procrastination. And you know? As it turns out, messes are….just not that big a deal.
Tell us: Do you struggle with getting your kids to help out around the house? Or do you have some great tips to share?
As a mom of five and blogger, author and writer, Meagan Francis spends the bulk of her time trying to balance kissing boo-boos with meeting deadlines (sometimes doing both simultaneously). But while life with kids is often chaotic and frustrating, Meagan believes a mother’s life can be rewarding and fun—and that all moms deserve a little more happiness. Her book The Happiest Mom: Ten Secrets To Enjoying Motherhood, will be published in partnership with Parenting magazine in April of 2011.