I have been seeing tons of “age-appropriate chore” lists and cleaning schedules and ‘how to maintain a cleaning schedule’ types of pins in my Pinterest feed lately. And I am trying to get my house under control after (nearly) a year of new baby chaos, and then there was the toy factory explosion that was Christmas.
After a week and a half of trying to get things re-arranged and de-cluttered and cleaned, I have come to the conclusion that maintaining a home is NOT a one-person task. Unless only one person lives there. Getting kids to help clean up can be a rough battle of wills, especially mine – who seem to have inherited stubbornness from both their parents. My husband and I also both come from pack rat backgrounds and we both have dropsy syndrome (where you notoriously drop stuff just any old place) and we’ve passed this on to our kids unfortunately. So, sometimes it looks like little natural disasters have occurred around our home. Big J was sick the week before Christmas and missed school, which threw off my routine a week before I expected. And then enter that toy factory explosion I mentioned. It was a rough winter break for my poor house.
My boys have a fantastic talent for pulling out all the toys, mixing up all the tiny pieces and then leaving them on the floor. We’re talking Olympic athlete talent and skill. Not terribly impressive when you step on that Lego rocket ship or helicopter at 3 am. They are also wonderfully skilled at the art of procrastination and bargaining – they get it completely from their dad. And maybe a little from me. I’ve actually had Big J tell me that he can sit on his pillow with his Lightning McQueen car and just drive on his own legs to avoid cleaning his room. Seriously.
Since we had three whole weeks for winter break (P.S. who had that bright idea? Three weeks was too long!), we tackled the boys’ room last Friday before school started again. It can be a chore in and of itself to get my boys to help clean up, but I hit upon some tricks last week in getting kids to help clean up and I thought I’d share what I learned from my two. Maybe they can make your cleaning endeavors a bit easier too.
10 Tricks & Tips for Getting Kids to Help Clean Up
1. Give them specific tasks. Exactly how specific depends on age and your child. I could tell Big J (5.5) to pick up all the books and put them in a pile, but Little J (3 next month) needed super specific directions like pick up the yellow car and put it in that blue bucket by the train table. When they knew exactly what was expected, things got accomplished.
2. Work on one area at a time. I divided the room into four corners and we cleaned one corner at a time and then we took a break. This took longer, but my kids were infinitely more helpful and less whiny. This time, it was more about the principle of cleaning up and caring for thei possessions than getting it done as quickly as possible. Breaking the room into areas worked great because, by the time they were ready to quit, there was usually just a handful of things left and then it was break time.
3. Work on one item at a time. When we first started in the room, there was barely walking space. A large part of this was because, at some point, one of my kids decided they should empty the ENTIRE bookcase. So the first task I set before my kids was to put all the books in a corner. This worked well because it got a large chunk of the mess cleaned up first (before my kids were sick of cleaning) and it freed up space to help get things organized. And it was motivation to me because it looked like we were actually getting somewhere.
4. Take frequent breaks. There are several ways to do this. I started off by saying “Help me clean up and we’ll take a break in 15 minutes.” It took my boys about 3.5 seconds to realize they were just going to run out the clock with whining, playing and other not-cleaning mischief. So, setting a time limit was not the way to go for us. But, when I divided the room up and said, “Okay, when this corner is clean we can take a break,” we got so much more done. Usually, by the time the whining started up again, we were already mostly done with the corner and I found that using tip #1 was super helpful at this point. In my five-year-old’s eyes, all he could see was stuff that was not allowing him to take a break. So, by breaking it down, we avoided a meltdown. It also helped to have them tell me what they wanted to do during our break. This was two-fold: it distracted them from whining and it gave them something to look forward to and motivation to finish the job.
5. Make break time relaxing and fun. Like I mentioned above, I let my kids plan their break time. Some times they wanted a snack. Or to watch a little TV. Or to play with some of the toys I was not letting them play with during clean-up time. Our breaks varied in length depending on the time of day and what else I needed to accomplish. We took a longer break at lunch time and when I needed a bit of time to put Baby N down for a nap, but we typically took about 15 minutes and that was long enough for my kids to re-charge.
6. Listen to upbeat music while you work. Every time we went back to work, I turned Pandora back on. The 80’s Workout Station was fabulous (I was definitely born at the wrong end of that decade…). Choose something you like with a good beat, too slow and it’ll put you to sleep. Big J asked me at one point why I kept turning the music on. I asked him if it made it easier to work with some fun music. He thought about it for a second and then said, “Yes, Mom. But cleaning isn’t really fun. I like the music, I don’t like the cleaning.” Smart boy. And it was a good distraction for me too.
7. Don’t let your kids get hungry or tired. Or you. The term ‘hangry’, as in being angry because you’re hungry, is a very real affliction in my household. Make sure to keep the tank full and don’t work (or at least don’t make the kids work) right through nap time. Take a break and give them food and sleep when they need it or move naps to a different room. It takes longer, but everyone will be happier.
8. If you get frustrated, take a break. And then take a break from your kids. It’s okay to turn on a TV show or a movie and let the kids watch while you re-group and re-focus. Or eat lunch. If you need a break from your kids, take it. If you don’t, you’ll get more frustrated and they will get more whiny and be much less helpful. And eat a little chocolate while you’re at it.
9. Make it a game. My boys are competitive. The words ‘on your marks’ will almost always light a fire under them and get them moving. When they would stall and not follow directions, making it a little competition would re-focus them on picking up the Legos rather than playing with them. The only downside to this was when Big J would repeatedly ‘win’, Little J would get frustrated. So then I would make a little race against Mommy and he was suddenly the winner again. Small price to pay for a bucket full of Lego bricks.
10. Reward them. I’m not talking a trip to Disneyland or anything. Just something simple that will let them know you appreciate their work and help. Big J got some extra screen time and Little J got a leftover Otter Pop from summer. They aren’t begging to help me clean now, in hopes of rewards, but it got the job done and it has been easier to get Big J to do his normal chores lately. Totally worth not worrying about little Lego and Hotwheel land mines when I checked on them that night. It may also be a good time to start (or re-start) a rewards system for keeping the room clean.
Do you have any tips on getting your kids to help clean up?