Teaching Children How to Clean

Growth and Development, Health and Safety

Teaching children how to clean is a challenge worth undertaking. Children who are thoughtfully and patiently taught how to clean feel they are important, valuable and helpful. These life skills will serve them well for their entire lives, and you gain an important member for the family team.

How to incentivize children to clean? The pure joy of cleaning is not always enough to encourage children to pick up their toys or help sweep the crumbs off the kitchen floor. There are many techniques to prompt children to help with cleaning and household chores. Here are five of the steps you will need to get the job done, with your child’s help.

1. Part of the family. The most basic and fundamental incentive is that material item. Everyone in the family works together to help run the family home. Let your child know how valuable he is to the family. Explain that the home is a better place because he is a part of it. Foster the feeling that your child’s contribution is important. This type of reinforcement will provide your child with the critical sense of belonging and security.

2. Attainable goals. Set reasonable goals for your child. A 2-year-old can squirt water on plant leaves, water plants, toss dirty laundry in a hamper and even learn to sweep floors or wipe down cabinets. A 9-year-old can sort and fold laundry, keep her room tidy and help you with dinner. Make the chore appropriate to the age of the child and doable within a reasonable period of time.

3. Positive reinforcement. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website, praising your child honestly and recognizing when he has done well is a key step in building your child's confidence. The goal is to give your child a feeling of success and job well done so she’ll want to keep on cleaning and helping. It doesn’t matter if every crumb is caught or there’s a little water spillage. Do not criticize earnest effort or redo a task. Your child will not sweep the floor the way you would, but it is better he feels he did a good job and you appreciate it rather than learn how to do it the "right" way. Praise, praise, praise! You will reap the rewards in the end and so will your child.

4. Offer a reward occasionally. Once your child is accustomed to consistently helping with chores around the house, you can up the ante a bit. Offer a special reward for a bigger task, one that lies outside the normal day-to-day scope of housework. Maybe washing Dad’s car or shoveling the elderly neighbor’s walkway can earn a monetary reward. Even better — offer the reward of special time with you. Playing ball, reading a book together or going to a special movie are a few ideas.

5. Make it fun. If your child views the task as a game, it will take the work out of the chore and energize you both. Set a timer for 10 minutes and try to beat the clock cleaning the family room. Sing a silly song while you work, or better yet, whistle. If your child sees you having a good time getting things done, chances are that’s the way she will view it.

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