Getting Kids to Help Clean

So I’ve read all through the chore section of Sandra Dodd’s unschooling site, and lovely as it all sounds to be able to just get all the housework taken care of with happiness and bubbles, even if I am doing it all by myself while everyone around me continues on with life, uninhibited . . .

I can’t do it.

Not only that (and by “that” I mean I might start out in the right spirit but halfway through those bubbles wouldn’t be so much bubbles as daggers. . .), I don’t think I really want to do it. I don’t think that’s the way it was meant to be.

Work is a part of life, a good and necessary part of a happy and fulfilled life. It doesn’t have to be drudgery but it is different from recreation. Both have their place, but much as I tried for a while, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the philosophies purporting to meld them together and say that they can be one and the same.

Under this philosophy, supposedly if only I have the Right Attitude about washing the dishes and putting the umpteenth load of laundry away, I would be able to see these chores the same way I see reading a book, or talking with friends, or playing games.

I don’t think so. At least, every time I’ve tried . . . again with the daggers. Maybe it’s just me?

That said, I do think chores and work can be enjoyable. There is value in and joy that comes from doing something hard, in taking care of our family’s basic needs, in making something clean and shiny and beautiful. And I want my kids to learn that.

But of course, as with everything, they’re not going to truly internalize that through preaching. They have to actually have experiences enjoying work.

That’s the hard part.

Well, not hard, exactly, but time-consuming. And it can be mentally taxing at times.

Saturday morning, as I was gearing up to get us started on our big weekly clean, I considered my goals in asking the kids to help. (I needed to be clear on my goals, as they would determine how I dealt with the inevitable resistance, tears, and cop-outs.)

Obviously with a six and three-year-old, my goals have little to do with “efficiency.” This will be the case eventually, for sure–-their help will be invaluable as they get older and our lives get busier, but there are other more prominent reasons right now. Here’s what I came up with.

Reasons to Involve Children In Family Work

  1. I want my kids to know that work can be enjoyable.
  2. I want my kids to know that they are needed–-to feel that they are each important and contributing members of our family.
  3. I want my kids to be able to recognize and appreciate beauty and cleanliness-–and have a desire to bring things back to that state.

Keeping these reasons in mind turned out to be really, really useful as I went about trying to keep them involved. They kept me away from my usual pitfalls when met with resistance, which are:

  • Get annoyed and give up, telling myself it’s just a lot faster and easier to do it myself.
  • Get angry and start sounding like a drill sergeant. Which usually only escalates the resistance, and my controllingness, until I just get disgusted with myself and the way I sound, feel bad, and then end up doing it all by myself out of guilt.

Very healthy and mature.

When my goals are clearly defined as helping my kids have an enjoyable experience, feel like important, contributing people, and learn to appreciate cleanliness, all my strategies change. I stop thinking about it as a job to just get done as soon as possible, and see it more as a long-term project.

My focus at this point is more on the process than the outcome. This leads to an amazing amount of patience and lots of creative ideas for getting and keeping them involved. I’m sure a lot of you have found some great solutions for getting your kids to help clean (and be happy about it!) and I’d love to hear about them. Here are a few things that made our recent cleaning day a [relative] success:

  • Start with a fun project. (I had them reorganize my bottom cupboards in the kitchen)
  • Distract, distract, distract! (They’ve become prone to dragging their feet at the mere mention of the word “clean” so I was short on the announcement of cleaning time, and long on my request for Sariah to get us started with some music, and Jane to be the one to turn on the light in the kitchen where we would be started.)
  • Work together. (We at least have to be in the same room. For tough things, we have to actually be doing it together, even if it’s 100 times more efficient alone!)
  • Don’t allow them to do it grumpily. (Jane started balking and falling on the floor when I asked her to take a pile of shoes into her room, so I got very serious–-with still a sort of a grin-–and sat her down in front of them and said, “Jane, I want you to stare at those shoes and I don’t want you to put them away until you have come up with an enjoyable way to do it.” She eventually put one on each hand and foot and bear-walked them in to the right place, taking several trips, and laughing all the way.)
  • Maintain a positive, light, bubbly (if you can manage) tone. (Seriously, the moment I noticed my voice getting on edge, I stopped everything and we played ring-around-the-rosies until I could get back in the mood. They can sense in a heartbeat when we’re not enjoying ourselves, and they will reflect our negative energy–-usually maximized ten times!)

Now, don’t be shy! Tell us all your positive, successful strategies and any other wise tips you have for keeping a happy energy in the home, even during cleaning time. I’m sure I’m going to need more ideas for the next go ’round!

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