“I am your mother, not your maid” has become an all too common refrain over the last several weeks (months? years? I’m not sure anymore…) of quarantining with my young kids. And while we are staying home and staying safe, I also need to stay sane, which means everyone in my household has had to step-up their domestic duties.
For my kids, this means they are now, more than ever, in charge of cleaning-up and taking care of their things. Follow along for the 9 successful strategies I’m using to help my kiddos do their part.
And, as noted above, you won’t find any chore charts on this list. In my experience they either rarely get used after a few weeks, or just become another thing you have to remind your kids to do.~ Tera Langland, No Qualms Mom Contributor
- Have Consistent and Firm Expectations. First off, expectations for children need to be specific and consistent. If the occasional whining or bargaining gets them out of their chores, your kids will likely always test that boundary going forward (you are not asking them to clean-up, it is simply time to do so). For some this may be the one in one out rule, where one set of toys are cleaned up before the next come out, or for others, a specific scheduled time clean-up happens.
- Enforce Consequences. This can be whatever makes sense to you as a parent, such as any toys not picked up spend a week in toy recess, or no evening sweet treat or screen time if rules are not followed. Whatever you choose, it has to be something you’re absolutely willing to enforce (i.e. if your child’s allotted screen time is the one time of day you have to gather your thoughts this may not be a great option).
- Make if Fun! In the wise words of Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.” In my house, we spend the 30 minutes before I start dinner cleaning up. I crank up my kid’s favorite tunes (they will do almost anything to hear Old Town Road), and clean-up time starts to feel like a thinly disguised dance party. Both the music, and the timer get paused, however, if I observe a darling cherub not doing their part. Other strategies I’ve heard of include varying versions of sibling cleanup competitions, freeze dance sessions, or incorporating imaginary play, like dressing up as Cinderella, or ceremoniously putting toys “to bed” for the day.
Photo by Angela Carlyle
- Verbally Acknowledge the Joy of a Clean Space. Just like adults are much more eager to cook in a clean kitchen or sleep in freshly laundered sheets, kids enjoy play more in unchaotic spaces. After clean-up has wrapped, and when playtime is beginning, verbally acknowledge how nice it is to have tidy and organized toys and play spaces, helping your kids understand the benefit of their labor.
- Have a Trash Can and Laundry Basket in Every Bedroom. This tip follows one of my favorite motherhood mantras, “make it hard to do wrong (and easy to do right).” If there is an easy to access and designated spot for trash and dirty clothes, your family will be way more likely to place such items in the appropriate place. And back to the enforcing consequences, consider only washing clothes placed appropriately in the hamper. If you have a teenager at home, quarantine is a great time to pass on the basic life skill that is doing your own laundry!
- Embrace Easy Storage. As noted in the previous tip, the easier you make the cleanup routine, the more likely it is to get done right. My go-to for easy storage is large open baskets, labeled with either the name or a picture (or both if your child is not reading, because yah for sight words!) of what goes inside. We have extra-large baskets for dress up clothes and stuffies, and a smaller basket-based shelving system for the remaining loose toys.
- Employ Toy Rotation. Even this minimalist mom can acknowledge the benefit of toy rotation, where certain toys are boxed up and stored for a period of time, then swapped in for other toys on a scheduled basis. Children love novelty and thus being reacquainted with items that have been shelved for a bit. And the underlying benefit to parents is there is way less clutter and daily cleanup. I also use our monthly toy rotation to assess the condition of toys, tossing or repairing broken items, or passing along toys that are in good condition that my kids have outgrown. Read how to do this in our Part 1 and Part 2 Toy Rotation Series.
Photo by Angela Carlyle
- Have Realistic Expectations. I can be a tad OCD when it comes to having a clean and organized home, so it’s important for me to have realistic expectations of my young children. Do I wish Barbie’s Dream House was always filled with Barbies rather than Pretty Ponies and Calico Kitties, or that the books and puzzles weren’t intermixed on the selves? Yes. But if at the end of the day these items are off the floor, and product of my daughters play, I’m going to take a cue from Elsa, and let it go.
- Oversee or Participate in Clean-Up Time. As lovely as it sounds to announce clean-up time, then go about your business, most kids are going to need some oversight, even if simply redirecting easily distracted pupils. I use our mandated daily clean-up time to do a little housework of my own, which makes everyone feel like we are working as a team toward a common goal, which of course we are.
That’s a wrap for my kiddo clean-up tips. I hope a few will help you out during these harrowing parenting times. And don’t forget, while teaching children to clean-up and take proper care of their things may not be school curriculum, they are certainly important life skills and lessons in personal responsibility.
Feature photo by Evgeniia through Adobe.