We have two kids at our house, but it can sometimes feel like we gave birth to a herd of antelope. Because as fast as we try to clean up one mess, our kids create three more.
I’ve always told my wife that if they gave an Olympic medal for how fast children can create a mess, ours would win gold.
I’ve come to realize that the issue is only partly my children. Most of the problem starts with me and my makeshift, inadequate methods for teaching my kids to clean. So, here are 9 easy hacks to get kids to clean that I’ve picked up over the years.
Lead by Example
Your children are like sponges. They watch your every move – the good and the bad. They know if you wash your hands after a trip to the bathroom, they know if you treat your partner with respect after they cook an awful meal, and they can tell if you hate what you’re doing.
With that in mind, whether you enjoy it or not, your attitude should be as positive as possible when it comes to cleaning your house.
Remember, monkey see, monkey do. If you want to get kids to clean, keep the pain-level to a minimum and demonstrate the same behavior you expect out of them.
Make it Fun
Fun is a relative term, of course. The point is to create an environment in which a chore doesn’t feel like a chore. And I believe that cleaning can actually be fun.
- Is your kid competitive by nature? Tell him that Tom Brady is coming over in 10 minutes and the house has to be spotless.
- Is your kid interested in music? Find some good clean-up songs and sing and dance while you clean.
- Does your child like games? Combine a game of Simon Says or Tag with your cleaning session.
Set a timer. Play make-believe. Whatever you can do to make cleaning… well… not feel like cleaning!
Have you ever been on a team with an absent leader? What happens? Team members lose their motivation to perform.
The same thing happens with kids.
If you’re doing something relaxing and fun while trying to get them to clean, you’ll find cleaning to be a difficult sell. If you’re engaging with them on their level, you will make them feel like you’re both in it together.
Don’t be absent. Be involved.
Growing up, we all remember hearing, “Clean your room!” as our mom or dad yelled up the stairs. For some kids, that’s enough clarity. But more direction is required when it comes to teaching kids to clean. Instead of the generic, “Get ‘er done!” that we’ve grown accustomed to, try these phrases out next time:
- “Make your bed.”
- “Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.”
- “Fold your clean clothes and put them in the dresser.”
- “Put your toys in the bins where they belong.”
The more specific you can be, the less confusing and overwhelming the cleanup process will be.
Make it Easy
Two things revolutionized the cleanup process in our house:
- Create a designated toy area
- Designate certain containers for certain toys
By doing these two small things, our kids had a more manageable task to perform. They knew exactly where their toys should be and where they shouldn’t be. And they knew exactly where they were supposed to put them when it was time to clean.
Honestly, kids want to please you and do what’s expected of them. They are more likely to jump in and help when your instructions are easy and clear.
Get them their own Cleaning Tools
I love this idea. Get your child a broom, mop, dust pan, some rags, a spray bottle (with water), and let them #adult for a while. Remember back when you were a kid and you pretended to drive like your dad or talk on the phone like mom? That’s the concept here. The more your kids can feel like they’re on your team, older than they really are, the more engaged they will be in cleaning up their stuff.
Plus, if your kids are creative, they can personalize their tools with paint, markers, or stickers.
Check out this great set of affordable, kids’ cleaning tools.
Make Specific Times
Attention spans are decreasing with every successive generation. In today’s world, it seems like children have the attention span of the Cleveland Browns playoff hopes – it’s non-existent. That means that fathers have to teach kids to clean in a way that makes sense and resonates with someone who doesn’t know how to pay attention.
What does that look like? Here are a few tips that you might find helpful:
- Short bursts. When you clean, do it for a short amount of time. 10 minutes at the most. Remember that your child doesn’t want to focus on a single task for longer than they have to.
- Schedule cleaning. Try to pick a time of day when you’re going to clean up. For example, 10 minutes before nap time, 10 minutes before dinner, and 10 minutes before bed.
- Schedule a cleaning day. If two or three times a day doesn’t work for you, you can accomplish the same thing by picking a day, each week, when you and your child clean together.
Podcast Ep. 97 Getting Kids to Clean Up
If you’ve been a parent for a while, you’ve likely found yourself trying to convince your 3-year-old that their level of cleanliness is not appropriate for a healthy, functioning member of society.
“Why do I have to keep cleaning?” your son or daughter asks.
Then, that dreaded phrase, that you heard as a child, slips out: “Because I told you so!”
Teaching children to clean is challenging because cleanliness is OUR problem. Kids are just fine living in a room covered in dirty socks and Legos.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to teach our kids to do chores and keep their spaces clean. But it’s important to hold them to an expectation that is appropriate for their age. Ultimately, if your kid never succeeds, they will quit trying.
This means to acknowledge, face-to-face, the good things that your son or daughter has done.
Fathers, if they aren’t careful, can focus their attention on the bad – “Your room is a mess,” or “You need to be more like your sister.” But imagine the impact that can be made by a father who says, “I noticed you cleaned up your toys earlier without being asked. Thank you.” Or a dad who says, “Thanks for trying so hard to keep your room clean. I noticed and I’m really grateful for that.”
Positive re-enforcement takes time and intentionality. But there can be a huge pay-off down the road. Try it out!
I hope these 9 easy hacks to get kids to clean were helpful to you. Now, stop by the store on the way home, get your kids some cleaning tools, and have fun together!