How to “get” children to clean up.

There has been a lot of discussion in our house about how to get children to clean up their messes. Mostly these conversations spark out of extreme mess and those overwhelming feelings of where to begin.
My mother says they don’t clean up because I don’t make them.
When I am stressed by messes my partner says “Make the kids to help you!”, as if it’s magic.
As most know by now, I don’t believe in teaching by force and chores and housework are no exception.
I have some super awesome ideas about inspiring cleaning motivation in children. I am seeing some great results with my own children in using these methods.
The first thing is always connection. To gain (reasonable) cooperation from children the most important thing is that they feel a loving, trusting connection to us. They need to feel a strong purpose in relation to the family as a group who works, loves and plays together.
The second thing is freedom of choice. They need to feel that they have a choice about things. Everyone wants to feel that they are in control of their lives and children are the same. Nobody likes doing something that is by lack of freedom.
The third is finding the joy behind cleaning. I often hear adults say “We all have to do things we don’t want to.”. Well, I am looking for a more inspired and kinder approach. It’s about finding the reasons that we do want to clean. There must be some or we wouldn’t do it. I have found that the feel of good dish soap and warm water on my hands is so soothing and cleansing. Also, the result of having
clean dishes to use is wonderful too.
The last idea I have is letting go of expectations. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect children to clean messes before they have acquired the skills to do so. I am happy to help my children clean, often I even do it all by myself (more on that later). Helping them also encourages a helping relationship among people. I see many parents who have conclude that doing their share means cleaning up every single thing that they use. To me, these are my precious children and their main job is to play and learn as well as entertain me with their creative antics. There is lots of time for us to learn these skills. It doesn’t have to be immediate and right now.
So, how do we put these four ideas to use?
Well, connection requires daily effort. It means patience and love and letting go. It means absorbing ourselves in our children’s interests. It means addressing our own fears and beliefs.
The second idea choice, means never forcing them to tidy up and that also means never by force of punishment or reward. It means trusting that they will learn the skills with our patient and loving guidance.
The third idea, finding the joy may be the most difficult as so many parents have a negative association with cleaning. Find the joy. Put on music, take it slow and mindfully. Look for all the reasons as to why you do what you do. Children learn well by example and will too find the joy in life maintenance if they see you experiencing it. If you find housework stressful, your children could develop an aversion to it purely because of it.
Fourthly, letting go of expectations can mean not expecting a child to clean everything they have done. Children must first learn the skills to clean and they do this by our demonstration and engagement with them. Letting go to me means that at times I will clean something up by myself for my child. Yesterday my son threw his banana peel on the floor. My mom wanted to make him come in and pick it up. Knowing that everyone is doing their best, I picked it up for him. I did this not to enable his bad habits but to let him know that I am here for him as he is for me. We work to look for the things that he does enjoy that contribute to the family. He likes recycling and running errands for me. Both of these are a huge help to me and he will do them without my help. I would never leave my husbands plate on the table until he is ready to do it. That’s not a helping cooperative relationship. I happily do it for him, and the same goes for my child. They all see this and often will return the favour.
It’s not about who does more, it’s more about how much can we love…

Here are the children playing kitchen. The oldest is only three and has initiated cleanup, notice how the younger two are watching her? 🙂
I have found that children are eager for order, they just need the space and freedom to discover how that looks to them.


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