Teaching Kids to Clean | FREE Master Cleaning List

It was 74 degrees this week.

In February.

In Iowa.

Now, I’m guessing when I say, “February in Iowa,” this is what you might picture:

And you would be right. Because that is a picture of our yard exactly one year ago today.

But today, we all wore shorts and tank tops and rode our bikes to the park, where my five-year-old proudly exclaimed, “I’m sweaty!” Yes, you are.

And then when we got home, it was time to put the bikes back away in preparation for the 30-degree, snow-is-possible forecast for next week. But first, we had to trip over the sled…and the winter coats…and the snow boots…and rain boots…and possibly 97 mittens that were scattered all over the floor of the garage. (Because when you come in from the snowy yard, you want to get to the fireplace as quickly as possible!)

My eight-year-old and I had a loud conversation in Walmart last month. “Why we can’t we do more crafts at home?” she asked.

“Because I’m not a craft mom,” I replied. “I’m a bike-riding, take-you-to-the-library, let-you-play-in-the-mud mom.” (It takes all kinds of moms, am I right?)

And when it comes to the areas of our home like the winter-ravaged garage, I’m a everyone-pitch-in-and-put-something-away mom. We took ten minutes this afternoon and put everything back where it’s supposed to be. My type-A daughter got out the push broom and our other daughter threw away all the trash. (Hint: don’t keep a brand-new box of bandages in the passenger door next t0 a five-year-old’s car seat. Otherwise, there will be a lot of empty bandage wrappers all over the floorboard. You’re welcome.) 

That’s why I am so thankful for my “homemakerish” guru, Kendra Hennessy, who has shared some great tips for teaching our kids to clean. Because in this house, we all work together to make a mess, and we all work together to clean it up. Ready for some wisdom from Kendra? Let’s go!

(Be sure to read down to the end to get your freebie from Kendra: a master house cleaning list to make creating chore charts and cleaning schedules easier.)

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The house is a mess and your kids are to blame. I mean, you certainly aren’t the one leaving dirty socks on the ground and smushing Cheerios into the carpet. You aren’t hoarding glasses half full of water on your nightstand and leaving a trail of Hot Wheels from the hallway to the kitchen. No, that would be your kids. But still, who is the one doing the bulk of the cleaning? I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the Cheerio smusher.

Set a good example.

This should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway. Setting a good example for cleaning is just as important as every other habit we hope our kids will pick up on. This doesn’t just mean cleaning up your own mess (which let’s be honest, you are probably doing anyway) but this also means NOT cleaning up their mess. When you set the tone that they are responsible for cleaning and contributing by allowing them to do it, you set the example that you won’t be the house maid for them.

Make it a game.

Kids love games. Actually, so do adults. When you make it a game, it’s fun and when it’s fun, they’ll want to do it. See who can clean up the fastest, who can do the most chores in a set amount of time, who can collect the most trash, who can collect the most clutter. If you only have one child, let them compete with you, or with themselves. Turn on some music and make cleaning into a party.

Set a timer.

I don’t know why, but my 4 year old LOVES timers. He loves to be timed, whether he is cleaning, taking a bath, getting dressed, watching TV. He loves when I set my phone timer and update him on how much time he has left. This also works for older kids. Timers give us boundaries and make us feel like an end will eventually come. There is nothing like starting a task and having absolutely no end in sight. When chores appear endless, they are a real drag.

Avoid making chores a punishment if you can.

Chores should be a part of living in a home with a family, as a community, not used as a punishment. While I am not a parenting coach and would never be so bold as to tell parents how to discipline their kids, I do know that when cleaning is a punishment, it becomes that much more difficult for kids to enjoy and contribute to the household. Instead, introduce chores and cleaning as a way that your kids can be super helpful and responsible. By nature, kids love to help. We are usually the ones who squash that by doing it all for them (been there, done that.)

Teach them, show them and then show them again and again.

Have you ever tried to teach a preschooler to tie his shoes? Oye to the vay. It is a process and he needs to be shown over and over again before he will finally get it. The same is true for cleaning tasks and chores. It took weeks for my daughter to learn how to use the washing machine. I showed her multiple times, then let her do it, then showed her again. It can be exhausting and frustrating and you’ll probably want to pull a “Oh just let me do it!” but try to resist that temptation. Showing them how to do it will empower them to do it right.

Praise them.

Who doesn’t like to be told they are doing a stellar job? I know I do! I even love when my son says “Mommy, you made my oatmeal so good.” I mean, it feels great. Kids do better when they know they are appreciated.

In the end, getting your kids (and yourself) over the reluctance to chores takes time. The earlier you begin, the better, but even if you have teenagers at home groaning over the fact that they have to clean their dishes, you can implement many of these strategies and give yourself a break in the process.

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Kendra Hennessy is a coach and home management strategist, and the founder of Mother like a Boss, where she helps busy modern moms become homemakerish. Her mission is to redefine homemaking in the 21st century and make the difficult parts of running your home smoother through systems, routines and mindset shifts. She lives in upstate NY with her husband Adam and their two spunky offspring, Ava and Everett. Kendra is a Girl Scout co-leader, a podcast and audiobook junkie and a coffee lover. She loves helping moms gain confidence in their homes so they can spend less time stressing and more time enjoying their awesome lives.

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Teaching Kids to Clean with simple tips from Kendra Hennessy