Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Secrets to Getting Kids to Help Clean the House & Chore Ideas for 4-6 year olds

by heather

I believe that it is important that my children start learning now about the importance of cleaning up after themselves and learning basic organizing and cleaning skills. It will save them thousands of hours over the course of their lifetimes. It will save them money. It will make them more agreeable roommates, friends, siblings, spouses, etc. It will make them healthier and most probably it will make them happier. I’ve talked to them countless times about the importance of learning to clean up their stuff, about serving others and helping each other as a family. I’ve also explained to them that if they clean up their own messes and Mommy didn’t have to do all of it, she would have more time to play with them and take them fun places. All of this falls on deaf ears. It gets pretty frustrating. My husband reminds me ‘Our children are normal. You were not.’ <Sigh.> For awhile I took away their toys and hid them in my closet waiting and they had to do chores to earn them back. I also made a chore chart where they can earn prizes if they do chores.  My walk-in closet got so full of their toys that I couldn’t even open the door and the chore chart lost its luster.  My four-year-old has decided that he doesn’t really need toys anyway. His room is clean and mostly empty most of the time. Who needs toys when there are video games? Video games don’t need to be picked up off the floor. Video games transport you to a magical world where you can fly and drive and create. Particularly if this game is Little Big Planet. Now I believe that video games can be a good thing (depending on the game). They teach dexterity and depth perception. They can help to develop language, math and science skills and team work. However, if I let them my kids would be content to play video games ALL DAY LONG. Um, no. Not ok. I, however can work this one in my favor. Before my kids can play video games they have to:

  • have their beds made, teeth brushed and matching clothes on
  • the living room needs to be picked up
  • homework must be complete
  • school library books must be read
  • most recent meal must be eaten and dishes put in the sink
  • their own laundry must be put away
  • they must complete a chore in exchange for playing one hour of video games

AND YOU KNOW WHAT? These things that I have been trying for years to get them to do they now do in a hurry. I finally found their motivator. I still make them go outside and play every few hours, weather permitting, and we do other things too. But right now, this is what motivates them to pick up after themselves. Of course in talking to other moms I’ve learned that you have to change things up. What motivates them at one point may not later. It gets old. You have to revamp the system every so often to keep things interesting. For awhile we used the bean jar, then chore charts, now it’s video game time.

Now it’s taken a bit of reading and a lot of trial and error to figure out which chores they can effectively complete, but here are some ideas in addition to a few that I listed above. My kids are 4 & 6 and they can do all of these effectively:

  • Wipe off door knobs
  • Clean a section of wall
  • Wipe off kitchen chairs
  • Clean the bathtub (For some reason Thing 2 volunteers to do this one twice a day, he loves to clean the bathtub)
  • Clean a counter (kitchen or bathroom)
  • Wipe off a door or cupboard doors
  • Pull 15 weeds
  • Unload silverware from the dishwasher
  • Clean windows
  • Match socks
  • Pick up 20 items off their bedroom floor and put them away
  • Pick up a small mess that the baby made (usually it’s that the crayons were spread on the floor)
  • Gather dirty glasses from around the house
  • Gather shoes and put them on the shoe rack
  • Gather dirty clothes on laundry day
  • Mop (As long as I pre-scrub any trouble spots)
  • Help me measure ingredients (Thing 2 needs closer supervision on this than Thing 1)
  • Help sort recycling.
  • Take out small garbages.

There are days this works better than others. And it comes down to how I behave, for this to work well I have to be involved, not just giving orders. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep the task small and concrete. ‘Clean your room’ is too overwhelming.
  • Work with them. My kids are more eager to do tasks if I am working with them too.
  • Inspect their work and give them praise and thank them.
  • If they did a sloppy job, demonstrate how to do it correctly.
  • Remember this is not boot camp, this is a learning experience.
  • Play some happy music.

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