Sunday, April 10, 2011

Teaching Your Kids How to Clean: MY PHILOSOPHY

Teaching kids to clean is a tricky thing because you don't really know if you're doing it right until they're grown, and by then I assume I'll be really tired. I'm making the best of my investment to the future by being consistent and faking enthusiasm. Oh, and biting my tongue a lot of the time, too.

These are the things that have worked for me. Jury's still out, obviously (again, disclaimer: kids not grown. It may be mom-hope and not reality). Also, this is the first in my 3 part series on teaching kids to clean. I know, I'm a sucker for the "3 part series." (It's a good way to cut down one really, super long post)

MY OVERALL PHILOSOPHY: I tell them we clean because we all live together and work together to help each other because that's what a family does and we want to live in a clean house together because it shows a. we're grateful for what we have, b. we take care of our stuff, and c. to ultimately want LESS stuff because we know what we have and how to take care of it, and d. this is part of growing up and being responsible. They see how little Margaret can do, and they feel proud that they can do a lot.

Deemphasize It’s Importance: I find myself saying, "Let's just do it really quick so we can go play!" a lot, or "This doesn't have to take very long--Let's just get it done fast!" My mom used to time us, to see how fast we could get a job done. Some kids love that (younger), some hate it and it brings them to tears (Hugh) because they want to win. Whatever. Don't make it a big production. On Saturday morning (more on that later) I have them do their cleaning assignments before they play video games, play outside, etc. We've been doing it for so long that they get up, watch some cartoons, and when they're ready to play, they ask me what their jobs are or they quickly request which jobs they want. They don't fight me on if they have to do a couple of cleaning jobs, they fight me on which ones they get to do because they're in the routine. I have great ideals about how the house will never be messy, but that's still a way off. My advice is to just do it quickly at first. Habitual becomes the goal.

Respect: Give them some perspective. Is it my job to do all the work? Who should do it? Why? Let them express how they feel when they come home and the house looks and smells clean. How do they feel when they can find whatever they're looking for?

Acting: I'm a big believer of fake it 'till you make it. I pretend I love to clean and I'm obnoxious and silly about it, and somehow it gets them to do it. I sing and turn up the music really loud and tell them to time themselves doing it and whatever else I can think of that's obnoxious in the moment.

Spend your creativity on teaching, not planning: Don't spend too much time on colorful charts and laminated pictures of cleaning steps and elaborate reward systems. Make it simple. Spend the time showing them how to do it, letting them try it, and then correcting when necessary, or as I like to call it "offering some helpful tips to make it easier next time!"

Don't pass on your bad beliefs: If you hate it, see it as a punishment, pretend you don't. Keep it to yourself. Affect the next generation positively by breaking any bad habits. When they're old enough to know you're not in love with cleaning, they'll appreciate the tools and habits they've learned and share in "the big joke" with you.

KEEP IT SHORT: One of the reasons I can get my kids to clean is because they know it won't last forever. I tell them--see you guys can do each of these jobs in 5 minutes--5 really good minutes. Just do it. Don't make a big deal of it. And then (this is the non-negotable) go have some fun. Model a balanced life. Work hard, play hard. I let them play video games after cleaning, or play with a friend. Something fun.

This is a funny one, but I'm totally serious. I tell my kids, "See? That wasn't so bad! Look at how clean those chairs and tables are and YOU did that! Awesome!" Show them they can do grown-up things like cleaning and expect it from them. Then remind them that you do it all the time, and all you're asking is for them to do it right now. Really quickly. No big deal. I also praise myself out loud in front of my kids. I say stuff like "Look at how clean that hall closet is! I am amazing! I am an incredibly amazing individual--Look what I did!" (This is also part of the obnoxious part mentioned above.)

COMPENSATION: I don't pay my kids for cleaning. I don't pay them for grades, either. It's not my thing. I'm not morally opposed to it, it just doesn't work for me. I want them to want to do things as habits like brushing your teeth and putting on deodorant. I want it to seem like not that big of a deal. I don't draw lines about men/women, class, rich/poor, I just make it seem like something that is important for every adult to know how to do. Because it is. (I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who has never cleaned a toilet--can you imagine?) Living in a clean, organized house is a great thing and they should all take part in the joy of that.


  1. You have a good attitude. I will try harder to fake a good attitude.

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  3. I have also discovered (with my teens) that if I am working and expecting them to work, they are much better about it, then if they can't see what I am doing. They all deal better with a mom that is not only telling them to clean, but cleaning right there with them. The house looks so much better since we have all started the sharing cleaning time.

  4. Thanks, Lisa! I removed my earlier comment because I realized how rambling it was! :\ yikes! Anyway, I was trying to say that YES, I think it is so important to teach kids how to clean. My mom was great but didn't necessarily teach us how to clean so, as silly as it might sound, I don't know where to start w/ my kids. Even reading the other comments here help too! :)

  5. Wow very helpful and insightful. I think you are right on about being an example of loving it, that's an excellent point, I better start faking it, nowsville.