Painlessly Teaching Children to Clean Up

One of the biggest conflicts between parents and children of any age is regarding chores.  It’s exhausting and demoralizing for all parties involved.  So, what if there were a way you could painlessly teach your children to get into good habits at an early age?  It’s going to require some big changes, but I think it can definitely be done, and I think it would be absolutely worth it.  

1.  Calm down their environment

Kids have SO many clothes, toys, and just “noise” in their lives these days.  It’s no wonder they are on constant overwhelm.  Too many activities, too much access to technology, too much stuff overflowing their rooms and play spaces.  It would be too much for a NASA Scientist to keep it all organized!  Look for ways you can calm down their environment:

  • Limit technology time to a bare minimum
  • Cut back on play dates as well as music and sports programs after school.  The schedules for sports participation are just crazy these days – 3, 4, even 5 times a week, it really is ridiculous the amount of commitment required.  Performing arts are just as crazy.  Your child may love to do it, but they may love having a regular pick-up game in the neighborhood just as much, or having a dance club with their friends – and YOU can control the time commitment.  
  • Simplify their rooms.  Figure out 10 days to 2 weeks worth of their favorite clothing – including some dress up items, and a few grungy things and donate the rest.  It seems like a strange thing to do in our culture, but it’s so hard for kids to manage 50 different outfits.  
  • If possible remove toys to a separate play area, and cut them back by at least 25%.  You don’t have to get rid of the toys, but you can box them up in a garage or storage area and rotate them every few months.  Then it’s like having all new toys.  And when they are not so overwhelmed by choices, they will actually PLAY with the toys they do have.
  • Encourage outside time every day.  Take walks around the neighborhood with them, get them to the park, and encourage them to play out in the yard.  There have been so many studies that prove outside time is calming and beneficial to their overall health.  
  • Build in a little quiet time – even if it’s just 15 minutes of reading, or just sitting on a porch swing and talking.  I’ll bet only 1 kid in 100 gets time like that on a daily basis.  It’s probably nice for Mom and Dad too!  

    2.  Build daily chores into their routine.  

    Kids need to learn that household chores are a daily requirement and aren’t anything to make a big deal out of.  They’ve done just fine with wearing seatbelts, and taking vitamins, and going to school every day.  If chores are made just a matter-of-fact part of everyday life, it makes it one less thing to argue over.  And never use chores for a punishment – you don’t want your child to have a lifelong aversion to them.  Instead treat them as a fact of life and demonstrate that by doing your own chores in a quiet, efficient and consistent manner.  

    3.  Don’t buy into the drama

    Some kids LOVE drama – especially girls, I’m told.  I don’t have any, so I can’t swear to it.  But it’s soooo easy to get drawn into the fights, and arguments, and threats over housework.  Just don’t do it.  Think like a traffic cop.  A good cop doesn’t call your car a pig sty, compare your car to your brother’s car, or threaten to put you on restriction for a misdemeanor.  Instead, he very calmly identifies the misbehavior, defines the penalty, and writes the ticket. Try to copy that behavior and don’t get into the excuses and the whining and the drama. One thing that is a very valuable tool is the “when, then” technique.  If a child argues, procrastinates, or just refuses to do a chore.  Just state very matter-of-factly – WHEN you have completed ______ THEN I will drive you to dance practice, fix your lunch, let you go play, whatever is next on the agenda.  And then stick to your guns and tune out the arguing, whining, or door slamming.  They may not complete the chore in time to go to dance practice – this time.  But next time, they will know you mean business.  

    4.  Rewards are fine – bribes are not

    We all like to be recognized for our efforts, adults as well as children.  But they are smart enough to know the difference between a bribe and a reward.  Children should receive an allowance to give them a little freedom to choose things they want and a chance to learn about money.  I don’t know if tying allowance to chores is really a great idea.  If you are going with the concept of chores just being a necessary part of life, I don’t think they should be rewarded monetarily.  You don’t pay them to eat their vegetables, take their vitamins, or wear a seatbelt – it’s just an expected thing.  Chores should be too.  It’s much more motivating to compliment their efforts – even if they aren’t perfect.  It’s OK to say, you are doing a better job on making your bed than last week, or to say – you’ve been really good about doing your chores for the last few days, let’s go get a snowcone to celebrate.  

    So, let’s take a look into the future.  Let’s say you take this advice to heart – simplify the schedule, clear out the room, box up some of the toys, build in a little outside time and a little quiet time every day.  You work on getting the chores done daily with no drama, and a calm attitude, and you show genuine appreciation for their efforts.  How do you think your child might be different three months down the road?  Might they be calmer, more organized, more in control of their schedule and their possessions?  

    I think so, and I think they also will have more respect for you as a parent.  They will have learned that the whining and fussing over chores isn’t productive, but just getting on with it and doing them will win them much better rewards, even if the reward is just a little extra time with you on a nature walk, or a trip to the park.  And a little extra peace and calm in the house, would certainly be worth a few months worth of effort, don’t you?   

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Photo credit:  Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at


  1. These are all great tips! Cleaning is an area that I struggle with getting my six year old to help out. I need to make it a part of his everyday routine like you mentioned. Then I’m sure it wouldn’t be such a big deal in the long run.

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