Teach Children to Clean

What can parents do to create peace on the home front? Try these strategies to chill the chore wars.
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Boy Vacuuming

Boy Vacuuming

An ambivalent mindset can keep us from successfully gaining kid cooperation around the house. Perhaps we grew up in a home heavy with sex-role stereotypes. Maybe we feel guilt because we work outside the home. When ambivalence strikes remind yourself that, just as we prepare our children for adult life by sending them to school, so we need to prepare them to manage a home.

Start Small, Invoke Change Slowly

The easiest way to secure your children's assistance is to train them to it from the time they are small. A 1-year-old will giggle if handed a clean diaper to dust the the furniture. Nothing can be such fun as washing a car with a 5-year-old. Problem is, these little ones' efforts aren't yet much help. In truth, you'll probably have to follow behind that 1-year-old with his diaper duster, removing the specks of dirt he's rearranged. Even when you match the chore to the child, the early years require some extra work from you. Listen up, parents of tiny children: just do it! An investment in your child's learning now will reap rewards in just a few years.

Your children are at an age to be of help around the house but their idea of "helping" is lifting their feet from the floor so you can vacuum beneath them. Resist the big blow-up and get children involved in chores slowly. For example, this month, decide that one child will assist with predinner preparation, the other will help with clean-up. Next month, begin a Saturday morning family "cleanathon." Gradual change gives you time to teach a child your household's standard for each task.

Tap the Power of Choice

Children who are given a choice of chores do them better and more happily. A child who dislikes the feeling of wet hands and gritty cleanser may be the World's Best Duster-and-Trash-Emptier. Another, with sensitive ears, may prefer bathroom duty to running the vacuum. A chore list of scheduled chores makes it easy to allow children to select jobs they'd prefer.

Create a Partnership, Focus on the Big Picture

The best motivator for a child is to work together with an adult. From a child's point of view, it's downright lonely to be sentenced to clean a bathroom each afternoon after school. Better to institute a family Pick-up Time each day, a family Clean-up Time each week. Even if that same child is alone in that same bathroom, he knows that all the other family members are hard at work, too.

Cleaning methods are a frequent bone of contention between parents and children. A parent's insistence on "the right way" can add another element of conflict to the housework issue. The answer? Avoid this by focusing on the "good-enough" job. A 10-year-old's skill with the vacuum cleaner will increase with practice ... if he's not derailed by arguments over too-high standards or demoralized when a parent redoes the work.

Chores for Children

Check this listing of age-appropriate chores to help children learn responsibility and habits of order:

2- to 3-year-olds can:

-Pick up toys
-Help make beds
-Help feed pets
-Dust lower shelves and furniture legs
-Place spoons, napkins and unbreakable dishes on the table
-Carry dirty clothing to the laundry area
-Sweep floors with a lightweight electrostatic dry mop

For 4- to 5-year-olds, add these chores to the list above:

-Make beds (if using comforters)
-Set the table
-Dust table tops
-Unload and put away groceries

Between 6 and 8 years of age, children can master these additional tasks:

-Keep their play areas or bedrooms tidy
-Water house plants
-Make beds (using bedspreads)
-Sort laundry
-Put clean clothing away
-Assist with simple food preparation (tear lettuce, make sandwiches)
-Fold socks, shirts and pants
-Help wash the car

9- to 10-year-olds are ready to:

-Change sheets
-Clean bathtub and sinks
-Help cook meals
-Prepare simple snacks
-Wash dishes
-Load the dishwasher
-Polish silver
-Sweep floors with broom and dustpan
-Help with yard work (rake leaves, pull weeds)

From 11 and up, train teens to do "adult" chores. They'll squawk on the outside, but feel pride on the inside as they master real-life skills. With teaching, teens can:

-Plan and cook family meals
-Do their own laundry using the washing machine and dryer
-Wash windows
-Replace light bulbs
-Polish furniture
-Wash hard-surface floors
-Clean garages and outbuildings
-Wash, wax and detail cars

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