We don’t have to tell you that parents spend a lot of time feeling exhausted. Keeping kids happy, healthy and well-fed is a giant task, and when they’ve had their fun with an arts and crafts afternoon, baking session or messy playdate, you don’t want to spend your evening cleaning up after them.
Just as we teach young children the value of money through pocket money, we also need to teach them the value of cleaning up after themselves. It’s not just a question of morals - your time is valuable too! According to one study, “the average parent picks up after their children 28 times per week”. That’s a lot of time you could be spending on yourself. Involving your kids in your cleaning routine from an early age will also stand them in good stead later in life: it helps “build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance”, and ensures they won’t be that person in the first week of university who doesn’t know how to work the washing machine…
Feel that getting your kids to help with the cleaning is a pipe-dream? Read on for our top tips, as well as some handy hints from our readers.
Let them lead
Turn it into a game
We want to instill good cleaning habits for life here - so make sure never to use cleaning as a punishment. Instead, try turning it into a game. You might find that your children actually start looking forward to cleaning time. “My twins are five and they love a bit of competitive dusting,” shares Samantha Wiltshire, a social media coach. “Whoever does the most wins!”. You don’t need to be ultra creative: something as simple as setting a timer and turning it into a race is a good place to start. If you are up for combining cleaning with playtime, take inspiration from nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green (costumes optional). “When I vacuum, we play a game where the vacuum is a monster and I chase him around the house with it,” says Charlotte. “As he goes, he tidies up things in his path. I hope we’re instilling a desire to be helpful and conscious of what it is to live communally, as opposed to making it about ‘chores’.” It’s a great attitude: we want our children to know that cleaning our home makes it an enjoyable space to spend time in.
Make it routine
Children tend to do best when following some sort of routine - and helping with the cleaning is no different. Aim to make tidying-up a part of your child’s daily life (as it is for most adults!) by weaving it into their schedule. If you’ve decided to do some baking together, teach your child that you start by prepping the ingredients, and end by washing up the dirty dishes - after you’ve licked the spoon, of course. It’s just part and parcel of a fun day of baking. The bonus here is that you’ll have a nice freshly baked slice of cake to look forward to afterwards. If your child is learning some basic cleaning at school, make sure you continue the habit at home, too. “We promote ‘tidy-up time’ with my son which his nursery does with him too,” says Lara Sheldrake, founder of community Found and Flourish. “After he’s done playing, we sing a ‘tidy -up time’ song and put everything away together (but I can’t wait until he’s old enough to help with the washing up!).”
Sadly, it’s unlikely that we’ll walk into the living room to find the toddler doing the ironing. Even so, there are lots of ways your child can help out - no matter how old they are. Make your tasks age appropriate where possible, and dish the jobs out according to age. You won’t want your child near your precious champagne glasses, for example, but you can follow consultant Tricia Rosas’s advice to “show them how to load and unload their own unbreakable dishes and utensils from the dishwasher.” The trick here is to be realistic. Even very small children can tidy away their toys, put their dirty clothes in the laundry box, and start to learn how to make their bed. Just make sure to leave lots of time for the task at hand (“3 or 4 times as long as it would take you!” cautions Patricia). Keep it simple by giving detailed instructions: “pick up your Lego” is a lot more manageable than simply “clean your room”. And most importantly of all, don’t forget to dish out the praise for a job well done. Our final word of advice? If your child likes splashing about, hand them a sponge and get them to help scrub the bathroom or kitchen - but make sure you’re using all-natural cleaning products that won’t harm young skin.