This question comes up frequently among mothers: How to make children clean up after themselves? My kids know better than to leave their toys or not make their beds. In my house, I cook and I do the harder cleaning jobs. I never pick up any toys or craft supplies after my four kids. I also never vacuum or sweep or wipe the table. I do not put the toys away and I do not put the children’s clothes away. I taught my kids how to do all of these things for themselves. I would be happy to tell you how we accomplished this.
1. In getting the kids to clean up, there are two important factors. The first one is the most important one: if you want your kids to clean up quickly and without complaining, you have to be doing just that, to show them a good model of behavior. If you whine and complain about “all the dirt you guys left on the floor,” while you are scrubbing the said floor, no child would want to imitate you, because you are too grumpy. If you happily do your part of the work around the house, so will the kids.
2 The second factor in getting your kids to clean up is to give them small jobs. “Go and clean up that mess in the kitchen” will get you nowhere. In ten minutes, you will see your kids building with Legos right next to the untouched mess. This is usually when parents say :”My kids are lazy and don’t clean.” Children cannot yet divide a large task into a series of smaller tasks. A parent has to act as an organizer, a manager of all these tasks. So, instead of sending them to deal with a “kitchen mess,” tell one child to sweep the floor (and be specific about where to sweep, because children, especially boys, have a hard time seeing dirt.) Tell another child to wash the dishes ( explain how you want this done,) and tell another one to wipe the table ( think of ages and abilities when you assign tasks and,of course, teach them how to do these tasks well.)
3. “But my kids don’t want to help and refuse to do anything!” – I hear this a lot. Do not leave your children any options of activities, other than cleaning up during the clean up time. “Look, I am not on facebook right now, even though I’d like to be- I am cleaning, and so should you!” You can offer your child a choice between putting the blocks away or putting the crayons away, but the option of “not cleaning” should not even be on the menu. Sensing your firmness, the child will help you clean.
4. Cleaning up should be a daily chore. If today you ask your child to vacuum and then you vacuum the floors by yourself for a month, then when the next time to vacuum comes, the kid will throw a fit. If, however, the child is expected to vacuum the living room two times a week after lunch, for example, it becomes a tradition. The child begins to anticipate it, instead of fighting it. Assign regular times for regular chores. Every time after playing, it’s clean up. Every time after eating, it’s clean up.
5. Cleaning up should be approached as a fun activity. “Look at the soap bubbles on these dishes!” Show the child how happy you are with the results of their work and show them how to enjoy the mundane work ( sing while washing the floor, recite poetry while scrubbing the toilet -be creative.) Show them how beautiful is the clean house: “Your room is gorgeous without a pile of wooden blocks on the floor!”
6. Allow the kids to have input into cleaning up. Let them pick a laundry detergent or some rags at the store; let them come up with the “best scrubbing method,” allow them to pick a storage bin for the dolls, etc. The more involved they are in the process, the more likely they are to do it.
7. When you have multiple kids cleaning up, make one of them supervise the others. Usually, older kids are good supervisors. If your 3-year-old and your 5-year-old are putting away their dolls and their craft supplies, have your 8-year-old make sure they do their jobs well. The older child learns responsibility and younger kids learn how to finish what they are doing.
8. Watch their work! A lot of children get enthusiastic about things and loose steam fast. If the child wants to abandon their work mid-way, redirect their attention back to the task and remind them that you wash all plates, not just one and then go play with a ball. My middle son had to be brought back to his job 3-4 times, every time he helped me in some way. Now, at almost five, he is finally able to finish his clean up. It was a lot easier for me to just ask his brother to do the job, but I made the middle one go back to his work until the work was done and one day the middle son just learned this and started finishing what he had started.
9. Everything in the house should have its place and the kids should know these places. If I need to have two beach towels put away, I just say: “Put these with the beach towels!” I don’t need to explain where our beach towels are stored. Walk the kids around the house and explain where things are stored.
10. At first, teaching children how to clean up is hard work. I remember how my kids used to come from the outside and put their shoes in a pile by the door, instead of neatly arranging the shoes on a shoe rack. I must have calmly told the kids about 15 times to put the shoes on the rack. And one day it just clicked and all shoes started going on the rack! Don’t be afraid to repeat, repeat and repeat. Your repeating is not in vain. One day the child will get it and keep doing what you want them to do.