As I mentioned recently, mine is not the neatest house in the world, so why am I giving tips on cleaning with children? I have tried a few things lately that seem to work. Maybe by the time J goes off to college, I’ll be the parenting expert I thought I was when I started!
This list is not for those who have figured everything out already (you’re way ahead of me), nor for those with a natural love of housework. But the rest of you with kids might learn something from it.
1. Reward their efforts
This is the most obvious of the four tips. You may be thinking, “Duh!” But God is in the details (I had to mention God somehow, since this is a Christian blog).
When you homeschool, your house can be a perpetual wreck. Evening clean up once took my boys over two hours. Now they must clean and have their work approved before they can sit down to dinner. Or, if Dan and I are really tired or hungry, before they get desert. Yes, that’s their reward. They clean or they starve. It’s the only thing that has worked well for us. (Only one has ever missed a meal, and only once or twice.)
We do give them a very small allowance each week, just to teach them how to use money wisely and so they can’t complain that they are our slaves. In general, we expect them to help, because families support each other (not to mention that they make most of the work themselves).
2. Never refuse their help
D is saving up for a Tom Brady rookie card. That’s not how I would spend my capital, but he’s suddenly eager to do little chores to earn more money. I am always tempted to say no. Then I remind myself that I will never be able to afford a cleaning service, so why not take what is offered me?
D is watering the garden, watching J, and putting away laundry regularly now–again, for pennies. I am only out about $1 a week and my flowers look like they have a chance of surviving the summer. This is a win-win.
3. Clean with them
I have read this advice regarding toddlers, but just this summer learned that it works well for all ages. During our six-week breaks, we spend an hour every weekday morning reorganizing their books and toys. Yes, it takes that long to get everything neat again. This time we are moving along at a fast clip, because I am working with them.
This morning we cleaned out C’s closet, which was in atrocious shape. It would have taken them 3-4 mornings. Together we did it in 90 minutes. When we work as a team, there is less complaining and much less goofing around. Working on my own project beside them is almost as effective. This is a compromise between getting frustrated and doing the work myself, and relying totally on them. I don’t get as much of my work done, but the reduction in stress is worth it. Especially since D is doing his extra chores!
4. Tailor the chore to the child
C is my phlegmatic son. He is infamous for doing “cheaties” (the boys made that word up themselves)–sticking toys behind or under furniture or in toy boxes where they don’t belong, in order to save time and energy. He also sits around a lot, causing his brothers to yell at him.
A couple of months ago, I noticed that when they were in a hurry to watch a movie on the evenings I allow one, C would help M with his task of unloading the dishwasher. Sudden inspiration! Now C unloads the dishes, a task I can easily monitor to make sure it gets done quickly and correctly. Besides that, he cleans his room, sets the table, and does two other small jobs. D continues to load the dishwasher and M–who always hated doing the dishes–does a greater share of the general cleanup.
Consider your child’s temperament and inclinations when meting out chores. I want all my boys to learn they can be hard workers, given the right job. I also am working on their becoming experts in their various fields.
I hope you find these tips useful. PLEASE share with me the wisdom of your own experience.