Confessions of a slob, right here! Growing up I had little responsibility. There were things that were expected of me, of course, like being polite, brushing my teeth and not talking back. But when it came to actual cleaning up, I was a literal mess. My room was a huge disaster! I had a hard time throwing things away. My laundry and trash cans overflowed. My parents did most of the chores around the house and I pitched in very little.
Happy childhood? For sure! But as an adult, I didn’t have the skills in place to keep up with housework. I sort of fell into the same routine with my oldest son. I’d clean up around him while he played. When I remarried (to a neat-nik, no less!), my husband insisted that we teach the kids housework and chores. I will admit that it was really hard for me at first. I am in the camp of “If you want something done right, do it yourself” so it definitely took a lot of work on my part to let the kids do housework. But I promise you it has paid off over the years.
Can Kids Do Housework?
Your kids aren’t going to wake up one day and have the desire to clean house! And they aren’t automatically going to know how to properly do the tasks either. These are life skills that must be taught (and the younger the age of the child, the better to start). If you think they can’t do something, you’re wrong – they just haven’t learned yet!
I can tell either of the older kids to “clean the bathroom” and they know exactly what that entails. They empty trash, put out recycling, clean mirrors, unload and load the dishwasher, sort laundry and vacuum. They can sweep, mop and wash a car. Even my preschooler helps with laundry, like transferring clothes into the washer and then into the dryer, folding cloth napkins or putting things away into drawers. It hasn’t been easy teaching the kids to do housework, but it’s a life skill that I’m passing down. And they do have the ability to do it (the desire, on the other hand, isn’t always there – more on that later!)
Find Age-Appropriate Tasks
Every child can learn how to make a bed. But only older children can be trusted to make scrambled eggs for breakfast. Make sure that the chores you assign are appropriate to the age and not too difficult or dangerous. Leave the use of chemicals for cleaning to big kids and make sure they have been taught safe use.
Make the Task Clear
If I were to tell my kids to clean the bathroom, they would know what to do. This is only because we’ve explained what the task includes. They know that cleaning the bathroom means wiping out the sink & faucet, wiping down the toilet, scrubbing the bowl, replacing the towels and cleaning the mirrors. Make sure kids know each task detail so that when you tell them, “Clean your bedroom” or “Do your laundry” they know exactly what you expect.
Kids should start to notice their world around them. Point out to them that you want them to pay attention to when household chores need to be done and that they can complete the task unprompted. Rather than waiting for you to tell them to clean the toothpaste off the mirrors or to put their cup into the dishwasher, kids who are paying attention to their surroundings should be able take care of the task without reminder.
Okay, so your kid made their bed and it looks like it’s already been rolled around in. Resist the urge to “fix” it. And don’t give up and start doing the chore yourself because your child isn’t doing it “right”. Better that they try than to have you finish their work. That will definitely give them the wrong message. Older kids can take correction more than little ones.
Make Cleaning “Fun”
Yep, just like Mary Poppins said, “The job’s a game”. If you have reluctant housekeepers, like I sometimes too, give them an “Element of fun” in their chores. We toss matched socks into a laundry basket across the room. I always drop wet t-shirts onto my preschooler’s head when he’s pushing clothes into the dryer. Let the kids get involved with meal planning and prep. My parents used to put on a CD of John Philip Sousa marches when they did housework and it kept things peppy. Make it fun and your chores will be less like a…chore.
Housework is a Regular Thing
Instead of just requesting that kids chip in occasionally, make sure that chores are done on a daily basis. Kids can be expected to keep their rooms tidy, with toys put away and beds made each day. The table can be set at dinner and cleared after eating. Lunches can be packed for the following school day. Find little things that kids can help with each day to make housework a habit. Older kids can understand the concept that things have to be maintained on a daily basis. It’s easier to keep up on housework if you do a little each day rather than let it build up.
Create a Chore Chart (For Little Kids)
Keep the chores simple for little ones and they’ll be more likely to complete the jobs with minimal assistance. A visual chore chart with incentive marks or stickers will help with goals.
Create a Chore List (for Older Kids)
Now that my teens can tackle just about every housekeeping item in the house, my husband and I came up with what we refer to as the “Ultimate house cleaning list”. While my kids have certain things on the list that they do every day (like cleaning the bahtroom sink, making beds and wiping the kitchen counters after dinner) other things are only occasional (like vacuuming out the windowsills, wiping down the ceiling fan blades or scrubbing the bath mat in the shower). Having an ultimate list reminds us of what tasks we need to complete. I laminated the list and keep it in the same place so everyone knows where to find it.
Recognize and Reward Work That Goes Above & Beyond
We don’t pay our kids for household chores. We believe that we’re teaching our kids lifelong skills and responsibility. However when our kids do something that is out of the ordinary or particularly challenging, we will reward. Sometimes it’s a special treat, a few dollars or dinner out. It’s also important to thank them and let them know you appreciate their efforts.
Dealing with Grumblings in the Ranks
Of course teaching and enforcing housework in our house doesn’t go without some grumblings from within the ranks. We frequently hear, “Why do I have to do this every day?!” Or “I just cleaned this, who got it dirty again!” A little complaining is allowed, after all if it wasn’t a job, it would be called something else.
The whining doesn’t deter from the fact that things still need to get done. I just remind my kids that chores still have to be completed properly, whether you like to do them or not. My goal is to raise kids who know how to do things independently and who can take these valuable skills with them into the world. After all, soon enough they’ll be adults and will need to know how to clean their own homes! I’m certainly not going to be doing it for them.