My first and foremost disclaimer, is that I feel like my house is always messy. With four kids seven and under (oh yeah- and one on the way…) it can feel like an overwhelming, nigh unto impossible task to keep up with their little messes on top on my normal chores. However, I shouldn't have to spend 30 minutes cleaning up after them every time they play! Here are some simple, doable ways to get your kids to clean up after themselves, and to assist them in becoming naturally helpful around the house.
And, as I'm sure you already know, habits and routines are far more powerful tools than incentives such as using bribery! However, I will say that I concede an occasional bribe… because I have taken into account that we all have hard days, and we all like milk and cookies, imeanright? Here are some ideas for getting your kids to clean up after themselves and take part in the chores of the household, and only the last one mentions using bribes! That does not correspond directly to the use of bribes in our house, unfortunately.
Have a Routine
Have them put books back on the shelves, or put out a basket to leave them in when they’re done reading a book. If you have story time every night before bed, have them put the books away as a matter of course when you’re done reading to them. You could add to the after-storytime-routine to put the books on the shelf (or in the basket), clothes in the hamper, and pillows or blankets on the bed, if there are any left on the bedroom floor.
Make it easy
Ask them to put their clean, folded clothes in an open drawer. That’s right— open the drawer for them and pass them the clothes. Do a hand off. This is so easy, and we try to make a habit of this at least once a week, if not more often. We try to make a nightly habit of putting all the dirties- or dress-up- in a hamper or basket in their room. Good for tinies. Doing the hand-off technique is good for tinies, too!
Put two brown paper grocery bags- one for toys and one for trash- or a small-sized toy bin (or clip a plastic grocery bag to a toy bin if there’s trash) in the middle of the room, and tell them to put 5 things off the floor into the bin. If they do that quickly, tell them to get 5 more things from off the coffee table (off the shelf, etc) and put that in the bin. We did that recently with strips of paper that had gotten strewn all over the living room. For bigger kids, and/or bigger messes, tell them "10 things."
Write a chore chart that includes Setting and Clearing the table. Even the youngest can carry forks from the drawer to the table. For some reason, my kids love to "help" me make dinner. Carrying an empty cup or setting napkins could be their way of helping. It is far better than stirring hot rice and getting a burn on their hand (true story). Make a habit of asking them to clear their dishes to the sink after dinner- when they’ve been excused— and when a little older, scraping their plate of its leftover contents into the trash can. Our kids can't get up from the table until they say, "May I be excused please?" Usually that's our last chance to say "three more bites!" and then, "take your dish to the sink!"
Give Consistent Reminders
We’re actually terrible about this, but try to have them make their bed everyday. Keep trying until it’s a habit— even if they have to do it in the afternoon! I remember this being a rule for me growing up, and the habit has stuck for me, even though it hasn’t really stuck for my kids yet. :( I have to tell my daughter Molly, "go make your bed!" again and again. The other day, she made her bed right before dinner. You live and learn! ;) As long as they eventually do it, I think that counts.
Make it Fun
Teach them to "wash dishes" even when they’re very young. When I think about my kids, I am sure they ALL loved this from 18 months on. Put a little soap on their hands, and let them go to town running their hands under the stream of water, and splashing and playing in the soapy bubbles. As they get a little older, they'll start pouring cups of water into bowls, and that kind of thing. Even if it isn’t productive necessarily, it is teaching them a good habit. And it can double as a washing hands-before dinner- kind of thing.
You can pass on this if you are super- strict, but when you’re having a rough day, give them a little treat of m&m’s or oreo cookies and milk when they’re done! Or use an allowance as incentive to get them to pick up. A chore chart, routine, consistent reminders, and a little ingenuity will take you far as you get them to clean up after themselves! This list doesn't even mention the importance of obedience, respecting your parents, and the responsibility of being a part of a family. For another day!
Adding my link to This Ain't the Lyceum today!