If you find yourself grumbling as often as I do about being the only one who cleans the house (or even cares!), then teach your kids how to help.
I’m a bit of a cleaning perfectionist and my problem used to be that I was too critical of the way the cleaning was done. I had to ditch that attitude. Although their cleaning work isn’t perfect, it’s certainly cleaner than when they started. Most importantly, it’s meaningful, confidence-building learning for them. Baby steps. Their cleaning technique will improve with time.
Even if your kids are as young as six or seven, they can begin helping with the housework. But don’t ever assume they’re going to understand what you mean when you say, “Please clean your bathroom.” You have to show them what that means, step by step:
1. Bathrooms: I bought some disinfecting wipes and put them in each bathroom. I showed my kids how to pull one out and wipe down the flush handle, toilet rim and seat, and (because I have two boys – three, if you count their father) inspect for evidence of “misses” around the floor near the toilet base. Next, they can use a second wipe to clean the sink bowl, faucet handles, and countertop. I told them to wash their hands afterwards to get the disinfectant off (sometimes they actually do this, sometimes not).
2. Dusting: I purchased Swiffer dusting cloths. These can clean so many areas of the house. I showed my kids how to dust the surfaces in each room. For the photo frames and decorative objects on my furniture, I showed them how to remove those things first before dusting, and then replace each dusted item back on top. These are also perfect for wood staircase dusting (I have an super-shedder dog whose fur is always collecting on our wood stairs!). Or, use a small handheld vacuum cleaner to remove dust, dirt and pet fur from the stairs (we love this Black and Decker Lithium HandVac).
3. Laundry: Laundry is easier for kids if they don’t have to measure and pour detergent and softener. It’s more expensive, but buy some of those laundry detergent pods – show your kids how to toss one in, fill the machine with laundry, and press the right buttons to get the washer going. (If needed, tape those instructions to the wall near the machine.) They can easily move clean clothes from washer to dryer, and throw in a dryer sheet. Don’t obsess about the size of the loads; smaller is more manageable. Remember the point is teaching them how, not maximizing the load (that will come later!).
4. Windows and Glass: Give them a bottle of glass cleaner and a microfiber cleaning cloth. They can clean windows, glasstops and mirrors wherever you have them. Don’t obsess over every smudge on the glass, but you can point out some missed spots to help them approach a “good job” rating.
5. Dishwasher Emptying: Kids can help with emptying the dishwasher, even if they can’t reach all the places you keep everything. They can stack plates on a countertop for you to put away for them. Try to keep things like tupperware and kid-cups and kid-ware in a lower drawer or cabinet so they can put these away easily themselves. They can certainly do the silverware. (I have to admit I don’t have my kids LOAD the dishwasher because I’m too picky about the way its loaded. Hey, we all have our limitations. I’m working on it.)
The most important thing is to give them LOTS of praise when they help with housework. Don’t nitpick on the little imperfections. Tell them how much it helps you to have less housework to do, and that it really makes you proud to see them contributing their efforts to the upkeep of the household. (You can even tell them that you love them more than usual when they help you clean.) Praise and gratitude are the best ways to positively reinforce their behavior.
Tying their demonstrated efforts to a small allowance or reward may also work. But be sure to actually hand them their earnings or their reward items on time when you said you would. Remind them they earned the reward by helping with family cleaning chores. Young kids are visual creatures, so if you let those earnings accumulate for weeks at a time the reward just won’t have the same impact, if any at all. If they complain about doing the chores, you can dock the reward by a set amount. If they refuse to do them, they should lose the reward but be encouraged to try again next time.
Another benefit of getting kids involved in household cleaning chores is the sense of pride they’ll get from what they’ve accomplished. They’ll be less likely to smear sticky fingerprints on glass they’ve cleaned themselves or throw hardly worn clothes into their laundry hamper. Boys will even be straighter shooters in the bathroom! They begin to really understand their work and develop respect for it. When that happens, they begin to respect the housework that YOU do as well.
You can implement these tasks one at a time, or all at once, based on your kids’ ages and abilities. Remember not to underestimate what your kids can do! This will be an important point along their path to becoming independent, responsible adults, and the key to less grumbling and greater life balance for you.