How I Got My Kids To Help With Cleaning

Do your kids help with cleaning? Or is getting them to pitch in a constant chore? My new secret weapon has finally got my kids happy to help with weekly housecleaning!

Do your school-age kids help with cleaning at home? Or is this a constant battle in your house, as it was in ours until recently?

I don’t like all the regular upkeep that goes with maintaining a house with a family. And my husband does his fair share, including lots of jobs he knows I hate. But that still leaves plenty of messes and cleaning tasks unaccounted for.

Someone’s gotta do them. But I admit, I’m not keen on spending my entire Sunday afternoon – the largest chunk of the week I get to spend with the girls – cleaning house by myself, instead of spending time with them. And last I checked, a maid or cleaning service still aren’t in the cards.

What didn’t work

Sunday has always been our cleaning day. Saturday is our personal “sabbath” or rest day. As the primary parent on duty throughout the week, it’s my day to take a long bike ride, go shopping by myself, and otherwise leave the girls with Daddy. Even my husband, who isn’t religious, has taken Saturday as his own personal Sabbath for as long as I’ve known him.

In contrast, Sunday has always been prep-day for the week ahead. Unlike me, my husband still teaches; for him, Sunday is a long day of class prep and grading.

But now that I’m home with the girls, I dread Sunday afternoon chores. My husband does some cleaning Sunday mornings (vacuum/wash floors, scrub down the stove, etc.) before heading to his office. And since weekday afternoons are so busy and Saturdays are Sabbath-time, that leaves Sundays for swapping sheets and towels, catching up on laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.

Yet Sunday is also my biggest chunk of time with the girls. How to get the cleaning done while still spending time with them?

In the past, I’d give them a pep talk every Sunday morning before church: After church, these are the chores we need to get done.

As you might imagine, that went over like a lead balloon. I spent most of the afternoon cajoling them to help me, while they whined and did their best to ignore me. Or hide. Or both. In the end, everyone was grouchy, and I ended up doing most or all of the work.

My new secret weapon:

I finally hit upon something that helped my first- and third-grader not only get excited about cleaning, but do it enthusiastically until the jobs were done.

I call it the “Cleaning Power Hour.”

This is how I framed it for them on a recent Sunday morning: I hate cleaning. You hate cleaning. But the cleaning needs to get done anyway.

So what if, instead of letting it drag through all afternoon, we have a “Cleaning Power Hour” right after church? We’ll change into work clothes and divvy up the chores, and all work at them until we’re done – maybe an hour, maybe less. And then we’ll have the rest of the afternoon free to play and hang out. Without me having to nag you both constantly about cleaning, and everyone getting upset.

Getting kids to help with cleaning: why this worked

The prospect of getting cleaning behind them sooner was motivation #1 for the girls. But Kimmie soon thought of two other motivations to help with cleaning:

“What if it takes us less than an hour?” she asked.

“Then you get the extra time as iPad time,” I said.

“Can we listen to music?” Kimmie asked.

“Absolutely!” I said.

Yes, the promise of music and the lure of more iPad time helped. But just as importantly, I was making them equal partners in the process of rule-setting. Getting to help define the parameters of our cleaning time was critical.

While they changed into cleaning clothes, I grabbed a stack of scrap paper and listed a chore on each slip, making sure there were an even number. I ran the list by them to see if they had suggestions for anything I’d missed. (They also got to see this way that I’d broken up some of the least-favorite jobs, like toilet-scrubbing, into smaller chunks.) Next, they got to take turns pulling slips from a basket until all the jobs were divvied up.

Then we sorted the jobs into sequence, starting upstairs and finishing downstairs. While I squirted in the cleaner and tutored Essie on her first toilet-scrubbing, Kimmie stripped all the beds and got the sheets to the laundry room. Then Essie helped me remake the beds while Kimmie scrubbed the downstairs toilets.

Our first Cleaning Power Hour lasted more like 80 minutes than 60. But together, we finished all the jobs in record time. With no whining or complaining about who got which jobs. And no drama over the need to get a job done and move on to the next; somehow, knowing others were waiting on your completion eliminated that.

The Cleaning Power Hour, improved

As soon as we were done, I sat the girls down for a “debriefing” – filled with lots of praise for staying on task, not losing focus, and getting their jobs done cheerfully and thoroughly. I also asked them what they thought we could improve for the future.

We all agreed that keeping track of the chore cards I’d made was tricky. So for our second Cleaning Power Hour, I made up a “chore jar” with the chores written on clothespins. The clothespins were extras from our recent school-day routine chore charts. Something about the tactile nature of opening and closing them really does it for my kiddos.

Chore jar how-to

The jar we used was actually a plastic container with a screw-top lid. I put colorful duct tape on the outside to hide the pins (and the jar’s previous labels) from view. Then, since the girls’ favorite colors are yellow (Kimmie) and blue (Essie), I colored one side of the jar opening with yellow permanent marker, and the other side with blue.

Now when the girls draw out their chores and we arrange them in order, each girl can clip her chores on her side of the jar, in order. The jar stays on the front-hall table throughout the Cleaning Power Hour. As the girls complete each chore, they drop the corresponding clip back into the jar.

For what it’s worth, using slips of card stock or cardboard for your chore-jar items is also fine, if you don’t have the problems we did of losing track of them. Laminating the cards will help with durability and longevity. And while lettering clothespins by hand with a permanent marker is fine, this is also a perfect job for a label-maker.

If you don’t have a label maker yet: I thought they were the dumbest idea until my mama gave me one. Now I use it to label EVERYTHING, from the girls’ lunch boxes and water bottles to their camp gear and school supplies. The labels my Brother P-Touch generates are waterproof, durable, compact, and easy to customize with an assortment of fonts and sizes.

Summary – Why the “Cleaning Power Hour” works

  1. Presenting it as an attractive alternative (get cleaning done in an hour, vs. having it drag through the afternoon)
  2. “Gamify” it with a fun name and a race-the-clock component
  3. Solicit their input throughout the process (e.g., music soundtrack)
  4. Incentives for finishing early
  5. I’m there helping them throughout, so it’s a team effort
  6. Fair, random means of distributing chores (drawing them from a jar), with the least-popular tasks broken into smaller pieces
  7. Lots of praise throughout and afterward for staying on task, doing a good job, and getting things done
  8. A new, attractive chore jar (made from things we already had on hand!) to make the process even more fun

Do your kids help with cleaning? If so, what’s your secret for getting them to pitch in? Let us know in the comments!

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