Training Kids to Clean [Part 2]

Apprenticing Housekeepers

Your kids have actually been apprenticing with you since they could watch you walk from one end of your house to the other. They have been mirroring your actions for years. They have see you dust, sweep, vacuum. You may have even purchased a cute little “play” vacuum or broom for them.

When learning a new chore I take the time to show them exactly what I want them to do. Then I let them do it. I learn by doing and feel they learn best by just tossing them in. I showed my 4 year old how to wash the table. There is a strategy I want them to learn.
  1. Wet the wash cloth.
  2. Wipe the table in small circles going from one end of the table to the other being sure to scrub yucky spots.
  3. If there are bits of food, scoop them into your hand (or in a napkin) and throw it away.
  4. = Clean Table

You’d be surprised what you need to teach. Wiping from one end of the table to the other isn’t that ingenious, but a 4 year old will totally just swirl around the table and back again and just move those bits of food from one side of the table to the other. I like to be as specific as possible without confusing them.

Don’t REDO It!

The first few times they try their hand at a new chore, I keep a close eye on how they do it. And make sure they actually listened. Most of the time they do just fine. But sometimes they do it terribly and I have to remind them how to do it. (And this is where I must suppress my inner perfectionist.) I don’t take over at this point. Because “redoing” it myself would defeat the purpose of them learning to clean.

If they are learning to sweep, I stand behind them and sweep along the tiles of the floor using their hands on the broom. So they get a “feel” for how it is done. I only do it like once or twice and let them finish.

Other times they are just under-motivated so I agree to share the chore with them. “You do that half and I’ll do this half.” They get it done quickly that way and are more encouraged to get it done the next time.

Chore Rewards

The best way I’ve found to motivate my child to accomplish a chore isn’t always bribery. It is actually affirmation. Encouraging them, and then rewarding them with a “Good job!” or “You did great!” does a lot for their self esteem. I let my 4 year old escort me into the bathroom, where she just washed the sink, and I close my eyes and then open them in surprise and celebrate the job well done. They are doing something new and aren’t feeling too good about it so celebrating them, is a great way to reward beginners.

Even if the job isn’t done perfectly, with a few bits of food left on the table they just washed. I don’t start pointing that out until after they are confident in their abilities. (When they aren’t looking, I do go clean up anything left behind.) But as they gain confidence in cleaning, their abilities grow too. They miss less and less.

After they are confident in their abilities, the affirmation means less to them too. So that is the point where they start to get “paid” or rewarded for their work. We are not a family with a high enough income to give an allowance. Money is scarce around here. So we pay them a different kind of currency. For dinner chores, the currency is dessert. Just like most kids, ours LOVE dessert. They practically demand it. So if they get their dinner chores done, they may have it.

For morning chores and tidying throughout the day, they are rewarded something else that is important to them. Gaming time. We homeschool, so we are here all day long. I can’t avoid the electronics all day. (I wish.) But if they do all their chores (and schoolwork), in the afternoon they all get to game. If they don’t… well, there is rarely a time when they don’t. They scramble to catch up with their chores really fast before gaming hour begins so that they can participate.

Chores As Punishment

Yes, I do give chores as punishments. I thought about this early on when they were first learning. “I want them to like doing their chores.” So I thought if I made them do a chore for a punishment now and then, it would undo the “like” of chores. But I have since found out that they will like certain chores, and HATE others. So it doesn’t quite matter. So when they do something disobedient, they may end up with an extra chore. They do it too. Because most of them would rather do a chore than get a spanking. And would rather do a chore than get grounded!

Sum up…

So find your child’s currency. Pay them generously for their hard work. Have patience when their work is shoddy. Don’t expect it to be perfect. Don’t criticize their work. But watch it improve with every time they do it. Don’t redo it right in front of them. And most importantly, teach them sooner than later! Don’t wait till they are teenagers! Start them early. If you are only realizing the need to teach them to do chores and they are already pre-teens, you may really need to work the “currency” thing.

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!)