Written by Jane Wilson.
Making kids clean may seem like the hardest job, ever topped only by breastfeeding. It is, indeed, at least most times. It all comes down to your child's character, your own persistence and lots of patience. It gets easier with time but teaching children this useful habit is not an overnight process. It takes years of encouragement and loads and loads of persistence.
Remember that simple rule: If you do one thing every day for 28 days, it becomes a habit. This one is valid for you, not for your kids, unfortunately. It might take longer for cleaning to become their habit. But you need to spend a little time every day to try and teach them. Kids as little as 2-3 years old can be conditioned to do simple tasks. "Conditioned" sounds cold, but sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind.
Be firm about the rules
Every time your kid is starting to play with new toys, just say something like “Before we play with the blocks, let's put the puzzle away, okay?”. Gently remind them that it’s not OK to leave their toys lying around all the time, and that once they’re done playing with them, they need to be put away in their designated area. Sooner or later it will become their routine, and you will be thankful for it, because you won’t be stepping on so many legos or small figurines.
Be patient, but firm
If they do something wrong in their attempt to clean, don't get mad - this will break their enthusiasm in pieces and they will quit trying next time, because they will be too afraid of getting it wrong again. If they spill something, just give them some towels and teach them how to clean it up. Children learn from their experiences, both good and bad, but if they notice negative behaviour on our side, they will pull away and refuse to do the task. You have to show them that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s never too late to do things the right way.
Make cleaning fun
Your kids are not at a military camp, so if you want them to get excited about cleaning, make cleaning fun for them. Come up with games. For instance, you can set up a timer and make up a rule. For instance, if all toys are put back to their place on time – he/she has won “the game”. If you have two or more kids, you can be sure that competition will kick in immediately and each will try to be “first”. You can also pretend that folding laundry is a fancy fashion show, vacuuming the floor is a battle to save the house from the dust, and a lot more. When you fold laundry wave the sheets over your kid and pretend that you can't see him her. They will feel a sense of accomplishment when they see they have done successfully something they observed you doing. It all comes to how you present cleaning to them. Your imagination is the limit.
Remember you are not there to boss them around and tell them what to do
You should help and navigate them. Lead them through the process of cleaning while explaining what you are doing and why. It’s more of a cooperation than you bossing them. Not only there are ways to make kids clean their messes, but there are ways to make them like doing their chores. You just have to act with gentle encouragement than criticism.
Set a good example
You and your partner should both engage in cleaning and definitely should never argue who should do it. Your child needs to believe that cleaning is good and if mommy and daddy do it, it must be a “cool” thing to do. After observing you, your kid will become curious: “How you do it?”, “Why you do it?”. Once you get their attention don't let it slip away. As you probably already know, kid's attention span is not very big – so be quick and try to keep it.
Explain to them how you do things
How sock balls are made and why. Why do we wipe the dust from the TV, why bacteria are bad for our health and how dishes are washed. Once you explain it, in an interesting and engaging manner, your kid will want to try – allow them, even if it is a plain waste of time and messing your routine. If you lose them now, they may never come around for another “cleaning lesson”.
Never, ever, ever make them clean as a punishment
It is such an obvious mistake that I don't even want to get into it. Instead, you should always associate cleaning with fun things – games, rewards, treats. Use it as a mother-child time, look at it as a moment in which you lay foundations and set up a good example. Remember you teach them responsibility and accountability, while teaching them how to clean after their messes.