Five Things You Need to Know If You Want Your Kids to Clean Up

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Ever wonder why you can’t get your kids to help clean up?

Shelly Birger is a parent coach who co-writes Awake Parent Perspectives, an online weekly newsletter at Frustrated with toddler tantrums? Not sure if you’re raising them right? Feeling disconnected from your partner? Subscribe to today!

I know, it seems like a nice idea and all, but how the heck do you actually get kids to want to and enjoy helping with clean up?

At first, I didn’t think it was possible either. But it turns out, I was grossly underestimating young people.

In fact, during my first year as a preschool teacher in a Montessori school, my limited ideas of the kids’ cleaning capabilities were completely blown out of the water!

I looked around the classroom and saw three-year-olds sweeping, mopping, dusting, and helping each other clean up messes!

Three year olds. No kidding!

Now here’s the kicker: Not only were these young people happily cleaning up after themselves and each other, they also felt proud of their accomplishments and were internally motivated to continue!

So, how can you get your kids to help you out around the house? Here are my five keys to promoting cooperation during clean up:

1) Invite them!

I don’t know about you, but I HATE being told what to do. When somebody tells me what to do, I immediately resist.

So, next time you want your kids to help with clean up, try inviting them instead. This means you’re actually going to be ok (and not give them the silent treatment) if they refuse; it’s not a demand, it’s an INVITATION.

2) Help them figure out the steps.

A four or five year old might not know exactly what you mean when you say, “Clean up your toys.”. They know you want their toys put away, but they don’t have a clear strategy of understandable steps toward success. If you can take a few moments to break it down for them, you’ll get much more cooperation. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and confused, your kids have a step-by-step plan for how to “clean up”.

Offer something like this: (and supervise kids who are beginners or who get distracted easily)

Step one: Say, “Can you find a basket?” (when they have it, say, “Yes!”)

Step two: Say, “Look around the living room and ask yourself, “Does this

belong to me?”

Step three: If you find something that belongs to you, put it in the basket

Step four: Take the basket to your bedroom Step five: Take one item out of the basket and find a home for it

Step six: Repeat as necessary until the basket is empty

Step seven: Ask for help if you need it

Step eight: Jump around, jump around, jump up, jump up, and get down!

3) Be Consistent

If you don’t care about food on the floor, nobody else will either. And if you want kids to learn to clean up after themselves, you’ve got to be committed to modeling it yourself, helping them, teaching them how, and supporting them in enjoying cleaning up.

It also helps to be clear about specific requirements like what must be done and to what standard. For example, when something spills, we clean it up right away.

If you can be consistent by making sure that every member of the family is living up to the requirements, it’ll be much easier for kids to comply with the standards. On the other hand, if you bend the rules (especially at the beginning of a new regimen), get ready for everyone in your family to start testing to see where the boundaries are.

4) Model enjoyment of cleaning tasks and offer kids challenges

You want your kids to clean up willingly and joyfully, right?

So how will they learn how to do that?

By your example, of course!

If you’re grumbling about the dishes every night, they’ll learn that doing dishes is no fun. But if you’re singing softly and enjoying the soapy water (it really is like a hot tub for your hands, right?), pretty soon you’ll have little fingers reaching in to help!

Keep an eye on what your child is able to do easily, what he can do with some effort, what takes a lot of effort, and what is so difficult it’s frustrating. Offer your child a challenge when he seems bored, but be fairly confident he can succeed at it.

5) Appreciate their efforts

OK, so I’m not saying that your kids will clean things as well or as thoroughly as you do, but that’s no reason not to let them try. If you can appreciate their efforts and offer encouragement, they’re more likely to get better at it.

If you just can’t stand the remaining mess, you’ve got several options- If you think your child is capable of doing a better job, you can gently invite him to revisit the job. “Hey I saw that you swept and I really appreciate it. I did notice some dirt left on the floor, would you be willing to take care of that?”

Another option is to clean up after them, but observe your child first- does she look proud of the job she did?

If so, don’t let her see you cleaning up after her. If kids see you re-doing a job they’ve just done, they could feel hurt or discouraged which can completely undermine the progress you’re making. Instead, wait until they’re asleep and go back over it when there’s no chance of getting caught.

I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t help your kids, if they need support. By all means, let them know you’ve got their backs, especially if they seem frustrated or are having an especially hard time. And remember that as skills develop they might be inconsistent.

One day she can put her socks shoes on all by herself, and the next she can’t even pull on her own socks. That’s perfectly normal. Repeated experiences of success produce long term learning, so help your kids succeed as often as possible. If you can tell he’s not up to the task today, offer your help joyfully.

Some kids have a hard time sticking with it when they don’t succeed right away. If that’s your situation, you can remind your child that learning new skills takes time and practice. If she gets discouraged quickly, help her gain confidence by encouraging her to try again.

And remember to praise the effort rather than the result. Now you know my favorite ways to encourage young kids to help with clean-up! I hope it helps!

Hugs, Shelly

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