Guest post by Eva Miller, author of Fractured to Fabulous. Shes talks about her experience and gives us tips on how to get kids started with chores.
Let’s face it, momming is hard work, and having to clean up after your kids all the time makes it harder. There’s only one of us, and multiples of them. Even if you only have one child, it’s probably safe to say he/she out energizes you; am I right?
So what’s a mom to do? Enlist help from the ones making the majority of that mess, of course. In this post, I’m going to tell you why that’s good for you and good for the kids. I’ll also share some of my philosophies with you, and give age and situation-specific examples from our family.
Real Life Skills
Kids need to be trained to use the toilet, learn (and use!) manners, and eat with utensils. They also need to be trained to take care of where they live. From toddlers to teenagers, everyone does something because this is preparation for adulthood.
My boys asked why I made them clean “all the time.” I told them I wasn’t going to clean their houses when they moved out. Plus, their future partners would be grateful for a husband who knew how to take care of a house. They weren’t impressed with my answer.
No age discrimination
Ability, not age, determines which chores are done by a person. Just because your little guy is little, doesn’t mean he’s too little to learn or help. Toddlers can put their toys in a bucket, walk their bowl or plate from the table to the kitchen counter, and clean up their bath toys. When putting their pajamas on for bed, they can put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Start young, determine their abilities, and be consistent.
Keep it simple
We don’t make our beds up fancy-schmancy style at our house, but we do make them every day. There’s something peaceful and centering about walking into a room in which the bed has been made.
Make it easy for them (and you) by only using a fitted sheet and a blanket on their bed. Four-year-olds can straighten a small blanket out on their bed and place their favorite stuffed animals or pillows on it. Make it up together as many mornings as it takes until they get the hang of it. Then stand by patiently by while she does it by herself for several mornings. Let her ask you for help if she needs or wants it. Resist the urge to fix it when she finishes. Just walk out of the room, momma, and pat yourself on the back for teaching her how to take personal responsibility.
The bucket at the front door
People are more likely to put things away if it’s convenient. Knowing this, we kept our boys’ shoes in a bucket near the front door. They didn’t mind digging for the shoes they wanted, and it was convenient to put them away. We weren’t late because we spent ten minutes “looking for the other shoe.” (We were late for other reasons. LOL) Plus, dirt that dried and fell off their shoes didn’t get all over the entryway floor; it fell to the bottom of the bucket. The bucket made the entry look neater and less cluttered. In the beginning, I reminded them every time we came home to put their shoes in it. Eventually it became second nature and they didn’t have to be told every time. This applies to my grandkids when they come over to my house now.
If you have the space, and multiple children, get them their own buckets. Let them put stickers on theirs, if they want–whatever helps them feel like part of the team is worth trying.
Our boys took ownership of washing all of their own laundry when they were about 12-ish. But it was a process that started several years earlier. I started encouraging them around eighteen months of age to put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket that was in their room. It became more intentional when they were about three or four-years old. I placed two laundry baskets side-by-side on the floor of their closets. One basket was white; the other was any other color. They put dirty white clothes in the white basket, and dirty clothes that weren’t white in the other.
Bonus: this was also good for learning/reinforcing colors. When a basket was full, it was time to do a load of laundry.
At first they could only do a few things with help, like twist the washer knob around to where I pointed, pour soap into the machine (that I measured out first, of course), put clothes (that I handed them from the washer) into the dryer, and take clothes out of the dryer and put them in a laundry basket. But this eventually turned into doing towels, and ultimately, all their clothes.
We hung up all clothes except socks, underwear, pajamas and shorts. Small children can put a shirt on a child-size hanger. It helps their fine motor skills and it cuts down on dresser drawers overflowing with wrinkled, rumpled clothes. Littles love working with older siblings. Maybe your 10-year-old can teach your 4-year-old how to pair and fold socks.
Kids love to help with dishes–right up until they realize it’s not actually fun. While they’re young and naive, take advantage of that good attitude and let them do simple, safe things, like putting away the spoons from the dishwasher. If he can’t see into the drawer where they belong, give him a step stool or have him give them to you or an older sibling to put away. Littles can also handle plastic bowls or plates without worry of breakage. Let your middle age child help you or dad with hand washing, drying (he can stand on a chair or stool if needed), or loading the dishwasher.
I homeschooled our boys, so I set up some guidelines. We put our own dishes into the dishwasher after snack or lunch. We each used the same cup all day, rinsing it when necessary. After thoroughly teaching all the aspects of cleaning up after a meal, we assigned each boy a day (odd or even). On their day, they loaded the dishwasher after dinner, and wiped the sink out afterward. Nobody liked loading because the loader also hand-washed pots and pans that couldn’t go in the dishwasher. This assignment eliminated the arguments about who loaded last and whose turn it was to unload.
Sometimes they had to switch days because of a social activity. Switching happened the next day–no putting it off to be forgotten or argued about 3 days later. Before Drew was ready to do it all, I alternated days with Ryan, and Drew unloaded and dried the hand-washables (if necessary). When they proved they were proficient at cleaning the kitchen, I changed the schedule and all four of us took turns, but they still did most of it. Our oldest cleans the kitchen better than anyone I know and he swears it’s because he got so much practice when he lived at home. LOL
We started slowly in the bathrooms, just like in the kitchen. Wiping off the sink with a sponge, emptying the trash can, and hanging up their wet towel or putting it in the hamper can be done by a five-year-old. Tape a list on the wall of the things to be included when cleaning the bathroom. When they were teenagers, my guys cleaned it once a week in the beginning. Yes, it needed to be cleaned twice a week. One boy cleaned on Tuesday and the other on Friday. They alternated cleaning once a week after they got better.
Big picture training
The boys started sweeping and vacuuming their bedrooms when they were about 7. Sure, it looked like a 7-year-old did it, and sometimes it was annoying to make them re-sweep corners and under the bed, but they got better with time. It wasn’t long before you couldn’t tell who had swept it–me or them.
Turning my kids into clean freaks was never the goal. My responsibility was to equip them with the knowledge to take care of themselves and their living space so they could become independent adults.
It would’ve been easier and faster to do it myself, but that wouldn’t have prepared them for adulthood and it wouldn’t have been fair to me. I was their mother, not their maid.
Some days it drove me crazy to sit there while I repeatedly broke down the process of cleaning their room into bite-size pieces.
“Pick up all the legos.” <wait for them to get them all> “Now clean up all the Ninja Turtle toys.” <wait again> “Now put all the GI Joe stuff in the GI Joe bin.” <more waiting>
But that eventually turned into asking them how they thought it should be broken down, confirming or suggesting a different way, and walking away while they did it. I checked it after they finished, and they’d come back if they forgot anything. Sometimes the process of me checking and rechecking felt like it would never end, but ultimately, it was worth the patience on my part.