Training Kids to Clean [Part 1]

I had a friend recently ask me how I got all my kids to do household chores. I’ve been doing this for a long time with many kids, so it is second nature to just train them in house cleaning duties. Basically my answer is: Teach one chore at a time.

Last year, I went through a time where all of the training came in handy. In March 2012 I damaged my wrist and the inflammation caused me so much pain I could barely grip anything. Not a mop, broom, washcloth, or even pull laundry from a dryer. It hurt so bad to sit an fold laundry for 10 minutes, I would have to ice it afterward. So I began to rely on my well trained children (and gracious husband) to pick up the slack. And boy did they ever!

Are They Old Enough?

With my first few children I realized when they were 6 and 7 that they could help out with dinner chores like setting the table and unloading the dishwasher. Easy stuff. Then I when my third child was 5 and realized how much he could do if only I would slow down and show him.

It takes a few things to train a child to do house work: Patience, patience, patience. Expect imperfection. Tolerate the imperfection of their work. They will get it right eventually, but not at first.
So as my younger two got older, they started earlier. My last child started when she was 4 years old. But she has been watching the olders for quite some time and knew what was expected. Starting young helps with their motor skills and learning how to follow directions.

Where to start?

If you are just starting out with your oldest child, start by making a list of chores you think is within their capabilities. If you don't know if they can actually do it. Take a test run. Give them a broom, and take the steps to teach them how to use it. (Don't assume they know how to do it! It's the difference between watching someone swim, and actually swimming on their own. It takes practice.)

Here are my thoughts on what mine could do at a certain age:
·   4 and 5 year olds should be able to set the table, wash counters, dust, and other simple jobs.

·   6 and 7 year olds should be able to unload a dishwasher and even wash dishes, vacuum, washing bathroom sinks, etc.

·   8, 9 and up should be able to do most anything you need completed: Loading laundry, folding clothes, sweeping floors, loading a dishwasher, cleaning toilets, etc.

Some parents will think I’m crazy but it’s true. You will not believe the things they are capable of until you present them with the opportunity.
I believe that when children start to take care of the homes in which they live, they gain a sense of accomplishment in their work, and begin to recognize messes (instead of being oblivious of it.) Eventually, they begin to recognize that if they make a mess they will have to clean it up. To me, this has been most noticeable in the bathroom. During one of our cleaning rounds someone must wipe off the bathroom sink. A quick and simple chore and one that is necessary in a household of 7 people with ONE bathroom shared between us. Yikes!

Not only is it wiped down daily, but the "toothpaste squeezers" have diminished the amount of times toothpaste is painted all over the sink. They grow up so slow sometimes. It's about time I have a clean sink without ME having to do it every time!

How much work is appropriate?

I like to give my children only as much as they can handle for their ages. They are all good workers now, so I am able to pile more on them. But I can see difference between "overload" and "obstinacy." They can be overloaded with the amount of work they have to do in our house on a daily basis. Be careful when first starting out not to overwhelm them with too much. Start them with one chore and pace them into more and more responsibilities.
You may need to reward them for their hard work. Figure out their “currency” and pay them for their work. I usually don’t let anyone have any dessert unless their dinner chores are done. And our other chores can earn them gaming time because gaming is a big-time currency or value to them.

I will show you our chore lists in another post but it would overwhelm some to see it right now. Starting out, you need to take baby steps. Start by training one chore at a time, one child at a time.

Other posts in this series:
Training Kids to Clean [Part 1]Are they old enough, Where to start, How much work

Training Kids to Clean [Part 2] – Apprenticing cleaners, Don’t REDO it, Chore rewards, Chores as punishment

Training Kids to Clean [Part 3] – Our Chore Lists (WARNING: May be overwhelming to newbies!)