Since being a mother, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few things that cause me to lose my temper. Going into motherhood, I pictured myself as a calm and collected parent. In many instances for me, this has not been the case. But of all the things that get my blood boiling, nothing puts me over the edge like a disastrous house. My husband and kids can attest to this. Since realizing this about myself, I’ve tried various things to help myself not get so angry or upset when my house is inevitably messy (‘cause no matter how much you clean, if you have kids, mess will follow). One thing that’s made a big difference is teaching my daughter the importance of helping around the house. If you’re wondering how you can get your young kids to do the same, here are some tips!
Encourage your kids to help from a young age. Young kids love to help, and teaching them how to keep things clean and tidy from a young age will teach them habits and skills that will help them throughout their lifetime.
Be an Example
If you want a clean home, you have to show your kids that it’s important to you by keeping things tidy yourself. Keep your own room clean and organized. It’s not fair to reprimand your child for a messy room if your own room is in disarray. Throughout the day, clean up after yourself. For example, after I do my makeup, I always put my makeup back in the drawer instead of leaving it on the counter. If your kids see you putting items away when you’re done with them, they will learn that from you. Nothing teaches a child better than your own positive example.
Find every opportunity to teach and demonstrate ways to effectively accomplish tasks. In our home, my daughter loves to help me fold laundry. This can be a difficult chore for a 4-year-old. When she first asked me if she could help, I was tempted to tell her she wasn’t big enough. However, I quickly realized that there were plenty of ways she could contribute. For example, washcloths and rags are simple to fold. We worked together, and I demonstrated to her how to fold each one in half, then in half again.
After demonstrating to your child how to complete a task, keep working side by side with them. You will most likely need to demonstrate the task a few times (or a few hundred times), but they will be doing it independently before you know it.
Give Simple Tasks
If you involve your young kids with chores, start by giving them simple tasks that they can accomplish independently. I’ve noticed that the independence aspect of this is key. When kids feel like they have done something on their own, the pride and joy when they accomplish it encourages them to continue to help around the house.
Sometimes it’s difficult to think of tasks that toddlers and preschoolers can accomplish with little or no help. Here are some ideas that we do in our home to help you get started:
- Carrying their dirty laundry to the laundry basket
- Sorting laundry by color
- Folding washcloths & rags
- Sort socks
- Organizing their stuffed animals
- Make beds
- Putting their own toys away in toy bins
- Putting dishes in dishwasher and unloading (with help)
- Hold the dust pan while you sweep (my favorite way to help when I was little)
- Collecting garbage cans throughout the house on garbage day
- Throwing garbage away (This is perfect for toddlers. My 1-year-old loves it when I ask him to throw his garbage away. It makes him light up to be able to help in his own little way. Just make sure to teach kids about what we do and do not throw away or you may find that some of your toys and important things are nowhere to be found)
Check out this awesome post here for a chore guide by age!
Offer Praise Frequently! And Don’t Expect Perfection
Allow your kids to make mistakes. A 4-year-old will not be as good at folding rags as you, but allowing them to do it anyways allows them to practice and gain the skills they need. If kids are never allowed to make mistakes, they will never improve. No matter how they do, praise them for a job well done! Don’t redo their task in front of them even if it’s tempting. Kids are proud of what they accomplish, even if to you it is not done correctly. If your children see you fixing or redoing the task, they may get discouraged. This can lead to them not wanting to help in the future. Praise every small success and effort that your kids put forth.
Break Down the Task
As adults, if a task seems too large, we can get overwhelmed to the point that we just procrastinate completing it. I do this with dishes. When the sink gets so full I can’t even reach the faucet, I avoid it at all costs. Of course, this just makes the problem worse. It’s important to understand that kids are the same way. If their bedroom is a disaster, asking them to clean it all up is too overwhelming. When this happens with my daughter, she almost goes into a form of shock, standing there staring blankly with a deer in the headlights sort of look.
I’ve found that breaking down the task makes it so much easier for her to see that it’s really not that bad! Break it down so they only have to focus on one thing at a time. For example, tell her to just start by making her bed. Then move on by having her organize her stuffed animals. Before your child realizes, the whole room will be clean.
Make it a Game
Sometimes when kids just don’t want to help, making it a game can get them so charged up and ready to go that the room will be clean before you know it. One way to do this is by turning chores into a game. Here are some of my favorites that have worked well for me!
- Counting Objects: Pick a number and have your child pick up that many items. Once they’ve accomplished that, pick a different number and count with them as they put away each item.
- Colors: Have them pick a color and only put away items that are that color.
- Sorting: This was my favorite way to clean when I was little and it made things so much easier. This is a great way to clean if your kids tend to dump multiple buckets of toys at a time. Start by putting everything that needs to be cleaned up into one big pile. Then pull out the various bins or buckets and have your child take one toy at a time and sort it into the bucket it belongs in. Similarly, you could tell your child, “Okay now find all of the building blocks in the room and put those away.”
- Time-lapse Video: Kids LOVE doing this! (And so do many adults!) Pull out your phone and record your kids cleaning a room. Then play back the time lapse video. They love watching themselves clean super fast–it makes them feel like superheroes.
When teaching young kids how to clean, patience is key. Kids will get distracted, bored, and make mistakes. But being patient and encouraging is so important if you want them to continue to help in the future. If your child wants to help you with a task, allow them to help. My daughter often wants to help me vacuum. However, the vacuum is too heavy for her to handle on her own. This means I have to help her hold it and push it with her, which takes 3 times longer to vacuum a room than if I were to do it myself. But the lesson I’m teaching her is way beyond the few minutes I’m saving. Instead of telling her no, I’m teaching her that I value her for wanting to help. Her efforts are noticed and important. And it gives me a great opportunity to spend time with her.
Be Cautious About Sticker Charts
Many people like to use rewards or sticker charts to encourage kids to do chores or accomplish tasks. I am personally not a big fan of sticker charts, but I know many people like them. One con with sticker charts is they can teach kids that they only do something so they can get the reward (or sticker). Recently, our library was offering prizes for reading. For each book read, children got to scan the book barcode into the library rewards app, and for every 5 books, a prize was given. I quickly noticed that she only wanted to read so that she could get the prize. My daughter has always LOVED reading and begs me to read to her constantly, so she really didn’t need any incentive. In the few days we did this program, I quickly decided that we needed to stop as it was teaching her that we only read so we can get a prize instead of for the enjoyment of reading and spending time together.
The same thing can happen with chores. Children can quickly learn that they only do them to get rewards and not to be helpful or to create a clean environment.
This does not mean rewards are bad for children, and rewards charts in general can be beneficial, just be cautious in how you use them so that you don’t create a bigger problem for yourself in the future. Read up on offering rewards to reinforce good behavior here.
Enjoy the Clean Space Together
Whenever my daughter finishes cleaning a room, she is always so happy and proud of what she’s accomplished. I’ve also noticed that my 1-year-old gets excited and runs around the room. There’s something about a clean room that makes everyone excited to spend time in that space. So enjoy time together while it’s still clean. (Because unfortunately, it probably won’t last too long.)
Give Yourself Grace
Understand that your house will not be perfect, and most days it will not be to the standards you’d hope. Most homes are in some level of disarray. It’s easy to look at other people and judge ourselves and wonder what we are doing wrong. But we need to remember that what is important isn’t the clean house, it’s having a family with members that feel cared for and loved. If you can only get a few things picked up each day with your kids, call that a win.
Remind yourself that motherhood can be messy, but your messy house is not a reflection on how successful you are as a parent. Clean or messy, we are all just moms trying our best to teach, love and nurture.
For more parenting tips, check out our blog at babycubby.com!