April 11, 2019

Spring has sprung, leaving those astonishingly organized among us looking towards their house with intense designs for rejuvenation. It leaves those of us not blessed with the neat bug wondering if we should contemplate this “cleaning” thing others talk about sometimes. In fact, I’m pretty sure if my kids heard the words “Spring Cleaning” coming out of my mouth, they’d faint—or check for a ventriloquist! That being said, they are not strangers to the general idea of picking up after themselves because it’s just a fact of life. Through the years, I have found a few ways to engage the kids in the process with limited trauma to any of us. It turns out, none of us—even the teenager—is actually allergic to chores!

If your kids aren’t much into cleaning, here are five ways to get them to help.

Set the Scene

One of my favorite at-home memories of my son is when he was about three. We would always get a sippy cup of water and turn on some dance tunes when it was time for housework. On this particular day, he looked up at me as we worked and said, “Dance and clean, Mommy. Dance and clean.” What can I say? The boy loves to jam! The tradition has continued as the kids grew. Any time we need to get things done around the house, we all put on comfy clothes, grab a drink to refresh us while we work, and play upbeat music through the whole house. Whatever comes next benefits from the—we’re all in it together— vibe we create at the beginning.

Avoid a Breakdown With a Breakdown

This probably doesn’t happen in those well-maintained “organized” houses, but for many families, looking at the task in front of us gets very overwhelming, even to me as an adult. I tell the kids to clean up the living room and they just sort of stare at it in vague horror. We avoid the inevitable anxiety meltdown by piecing out the projects from the start. With younger kids, this can mean you create piles for them to work from, use boxes to sort items instead of putting each one away individually, or limiting the work to a very small area. The older kids can handle more information so the breakdown might be to make a list of tasks so they can focus on one thing at a time, keep the work in one room, or put them in charge of a single task, like “pick up and sort all the books” or “find all the random laundry scattered through the house.”

Get Specific

Even though they are not my natural strong suite, there are two ways I use more details to smooth the cleaning path. First, I show the kids exactly how to do whatever chore they are tackling. Scrubbing baseboards or washing windows can leave a lot of room for interpretation for a child with no prior experience. By giving specific instructions and examples of how to do the job, you can avoid more of the streaks and dust that tends to happen when the minions are left to their own devices. Second, you have to be very clear about where things should go. I’ll never forget my five-year-old daughter’s pride in straightening her whole room, by herself, in just thirty minutes. I found everything pushed under her brother’s crib. She was quite confused as to why this didn’t count as cleaning! Now that they’re older, it still helps the process to know exactly where things should go, and maybe more importantly, where they shouldn’t!

Then Get Very General

Because things tend to be a bit looser at our house, it’s important that I build ownership with the kids as we approach the project. I give them as much input as possible in the plan of attack. Obviously, we have to keep it within reason, The teenager would probably plan on supervising from the couch if that were an option! Once you set them on a task with instructions and details, it’s important to let go of your more specific expectations and let them do things in their way. Too much correction or direction can seriously deflate the sense of accomplishment.

Put a Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow

While for most adults, a clean house is the goal, kids don’t really have that perspective yet. They can be motivated with a bigger reason for what you’re doing. Choose something encouraging like inviting a friend to spend the night in the newly spacious room, planning a picnic in the cleared “field” of the living room, or build a giant nest of pillows to have a movie night. Shhhh…it’s not a BRIBE. Let’s call it a “positive consequence” of hard work!

Hopefully, in the end, your house will be a bit cleaner, your kids a bit prouder, and you feel a bit less like you have to do it all alone. Happy spring and happy cleaning!