Today Val, mother of 4, is sharing some tips on how to teach children to clean from a very young age.
By Valerie Plowman
Teaching your children to be good, hard workers is completely possible and feasible. The tricky thing about it is that it takes a lot of time. I am not talking a week or two—I am talking years. Of all the things I have taught my children, learning to work and clean has taken the longest. Perhaps this is why many parents find themselves with six year olds who still don’t make a real contribution toward cleaning the home. This takes time and consistency.
Now, just because it takes years to fully establish doesn’t mean you can’t see improvements along the way. But bear in mind that you will need to be consistent and patient over years if you want to have a child who is a great helper down the road. Another thing to keep in mind is that some children are naturally more inclined toward cleaning than others—just like adults are. Some of us like cleaning more than others do. Those naturally inclined toward cleaning will be helpful younger than those not inclined. I have had both kinds of children, and trust me when I tell you that if you stick with it, your non-lover-of-cleaning child will be a good helper too!
I bet you want to know what you are in for. Here is a little observation I have made of children.
Babies under one just won’t be helpful. Some might get to the point close to age one to help put things back away, but they likely will grab it back out as soon as they put something away. Clean with them anyway.
Pre-Toddlers (12-18 months) will start to “contribute.” This is darling and will melt your heart. But it still won’t lighten your load.
Toddlers get better at making messes faster than then get better at cleaning them up. They can take on small tasks, though, and if you are patient, they can finish them. They will need help throughout the whole process.
Three year olds are messy little things! This is the messiest age. You will have bigger messes with a three year old around. A three year old, however, can also help clean up messes made. They still need time and direction, but can be some help. Brayden, my oldest, was actually a real help around the house at three. It took him a long time, but he did jobs well enough I was happy with them.
Four is when things start to look up. A four year old can clean independently. A four year old seems to make fewer messes. The four year old still needs instruction and small jobs, but you will see a big turn around at this age.
Five and older just continues to get better and better. Many 5-6 year olds can be shown a room that is a big mess and told simply to “clean it” and they can and will.
Start as young as you can in involving your child in cleaning. When play time is over for your baby, clean up with your baby. I always sing songs and talk about the cleaning as I go. Obviously babies just watch, but you know babies are always learning.
When my oldest was a baby, I cleaned “with” him from newborn on up. We lived in a studio apartment situation and when it was his nap time, I didn’t want to be running around cleaning and waking him up.
When my second came along, we were in a house, so I cleaned while she slept. I found as she got older, she had no interest in cleaning. This leads me too…
BE AN EXAMPLE
Clean around your children—even as babies. I came up with a theory that maybe my second didn’t love cleaning like my first because she hadn’t watched me doing it. Children love to emulate their parents and siblings. So be an example. With my last two children, I have cleaned around them from birth—not just during naps—and they have both turned out to be good cleaners (even my 13 month old helps clean up and sort laundry—not in a “helpful” way, but she thinks she is helping).
ALWAYS ALLOW HELP
Of course letting your two year old help you dust means it will take you five times longer than it would if you did it alone. Allow help anyway! Give your little two year old a dust rag and a specific piece of furniture to dust and let her do it.
Don’t tell your child things like “Oh, this isn’t fun. Playing is fun. You go play while I clean.” No! Let the child experience the enjoyment from cleaning and enjoyment from being like you.
DEMONSTRATE AND TEACH
If you want your child to be able to do a job, you need to teach your child. Your child will initially learn from watching you, but once the child is old enough to really contribute (3 or older depending on the child and the chore), you will need to demonstrate and teach how to do it. Even with my eight year old, when he first gets a new chore, I walk him through it. He recently started cleaning toilets. He has been watching me clean toilets for years, but I still verbally explained it all and showed him how to do it and why I do certain things.
BE SPECIFIC and KEEP JOBS SMALL
You need to be specific with children. You can’t expect them to know exactly what you mean. Being specific Is also very beneficial for children who are younger. Three and under definitely need it. Many four and five year olds will also. You can’t tell a young child, “Clean your room” and expect it to happen. You need to say, “Pick up all of the books and put them away.” Then once the books are picked up, you say, “Great! Thank you for working so hard to put away those books. Now pick up all of the ponies and put them away.” Give your child one part of the mess to focus on. This is a strategy we use even as adults. We walk in the room and break it down into a smaller task. Children don’t know how to do that when they are young. But you walking them through it will teach them how.
Children take a long time to do anything. If your child is in independent playtime and you need to leave at 11 AM, give plenty of time for your child to help clean up before you leave. Don’t expect a child to get it done in five minutes.
THANK AND PRAISE
We all like to be thanked when we do things, even if it is something that is our job. I do laundry each week and still appreciate it when my family thanks me for doing so. Children like it too! Thank your child for cleaning. Praise specific efforts, “I love how hard you scrubbed that table!”
BE SATISFIED WITH EFFORTS
Don’t follow behind your child and re-clean what he just cleaned. From age three to four, be satisfied with the job done. You can re-do what children younger than that do later without them realizing it, but for the older children who are aware, re-doing what they did tells them A) they weren’t good enough and B) they don’t need to work hard because mom will fix it anyway.
With that said, if you know your child is capable of better, expect better. If you can tell the best effort wasn’t put into it, have your child fix it.
TALK ABOUT BENEFITS
Once things are clean, point out how nice it is. Point out what you like about that job being done. “Look how clean that window is! It lets in so much light now and we can see so clearly to the outside.”
Be consistent in your rules and expectations. Have your chore time at a consistent time of day. I find children move faster if they are required to do chores before they can watch TV/play with friends/play with toys etc. Have consistent rules and expectations and you will find you have a good hard worker!
Valerie is a mother to four (ages 8, 6, 4, and 13 months) and blogs at www.babywisemom.com
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