Easy Ways to Teach Your Kids to Clean
Neat Freaks owner Amy Gibbs is a mom to four kids, with a 10 year age span between the two pairs. Amy’s mantra in parenting is that we’re not just raising kids, we’re raising future adults. She believes one of our roles as parents is to equip kids with all the skills necessary to be respectable, well-functioning adults.
“What I’ve learned from teaching four kids how to clean is two-fold: one, it helps them to grow up to be responsible, respectable people, roommates, and spouses. Two, the more help mom and dad can get, the easier life is for them and the more time they have to relax. Also it helps with kids’ confidence and self-esteem to contribute to the family and household,” Amy said.
Starting from the age of 2, Amy had her kids do simple household chores—putting shirts on hangers, unloading silverware from dishwasher, setting table—along side of mom.
“Whatever I was doing, they did with me and it became an everyday thing. As they got older, they got better and faster, and the tasks got larger and more complex,” she said. “I had to instill a desire in them to do these tasks and did NOT demand perfection as they were little. How do you do that? Make it fun and easy—a task that can be done in places they can reach on their own or with a stool. Make it a task at which you know they can be successful. Age-appropriate rewards are always a good idea–stickers, m&ms, nickels.”
For more difficult tasks, do it with them. An example is making the bed: you on one side, them on the other. Give instructions and complete it together. Praise them often! Remember, you’re not looking for perfection.
Also, kids love tools! If your kiddo is too young to use a spray bottle, let them wipe sinks and counters with sanitizing wipes. Little boys can even clean the toilet seat with these (their wives will thank you one day!).
Ages 2-4: pick up toys, unload dishwasher (kid-safe items), stack plasticware, tidy couch pillows, put shoes away, bring in plate after dinner, bring items to table for dinner, do dishes with help (they love to play in soapy water and with brushes), make bed w/ help (put pillows and stuffed animals in place)
Ages 5-8: set and clear table, do dishes, load dishwasher, run vacuum, make bed with help (teach them how), put away clothes (already folded and grouped—tip: label drawers with clipart pics so they know where everything goes), sort laundry (lights, whites, colors), dust own room and end tables, feed pets (can use pitcher)
Ages 9 and older: the tasks increase. Different products, different expectations, same behaviors: use sponges, rags, and spray bottles to clean, truly polish instead of just wiping, clean whole toilet. make bed on own, wash windows
Teens: should be able to clean anything in the house–maybe not as good as mom, but close. Other good things for teens to learn to do: mowing yard, sew a button, laundry, cook for themselves (and clean up after)
“In fact,” Amy said, “I start teaching my kids to cook alone in the kitchen at 9. They may even get to the point where they want to cook a meal for everyone–what a gift to the whole family!”
Establishing a routine
In the beginning, make them short and start small. Have your kiddo(s) complete the tasks daily and at the same time every day helps make it routine to them.
Morning: get dressed, clean up room, dirties in hamper
Bathroom: brush teeth, rinse sink, toothbrush in holder, wet wipe sink/counter
After school: shoes off, empty backpack, empty lunch, coat hung up
Laundry: teach kids to sort (darks, lights, whites) when hamper is full
TIP: have a place for everything so they can easily put things in their place
“The end goal is what my family calls “4 for 40”, where the 4 of us spend 40 minutes on a Saturday cleaning our 2200 sq. ft. (dust, vacuum, mop, spot clean kitchen & bath),” Amy said. “We set the timer, turn up the music, and each complete our assigned tasks: one does the kitchen, one dusts and does bathrooms, one vacuums, and one mops.”
Daily routines make 4/40 about cleaning not tidying—stay on top of it daily so that house is mostly clean throughout week. Keep up on daily tasks so weekend clean can be quick.
“The key is to lower expectations—not a neurotic clean, but livable; your expectations should be in balance with the time and resources (KIDS!) you have,” Amy said.