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10 Simple Ways to Teach Your Kids How To Clean

Need a simple and effective way to get your kiddos to help out with the household chores–without groaning, moaning and eye-rolling? Here are 10 strategies to help you get even your most resistant family member whistling while they work!


Although house cleaning is now a weekly ritual for my family of 5, we didn’t always start off this way.

Both my husband and I come from Korean-American households where cleaning and other such life skills, were cast aside for our academic pursuits; We thought that to achieve success in life. (i.e. become a doctor, lawyer or engineer), we needed to study more, not clean.

But in raising my three boys, ages 23, 19, and 13, I’ve learned that both knowledge and basic life skills are necessary components of living better with less.

As an article in the Huffington Post says: 

“A child who is deprived of opportunities to do life’s mundane, unpleasant tasks grows up with diminished self-esteem and confidence, whereas one who has discovered that she can successfully tackle a difficult job — or a big mess — will bring the confidence she gains through that experience into her adult life.” 

This is why, I believe cleaning is something that every child should learn and one that every parent should teach.

How else would children tackle life’s more significant messes, if they never learn to clean up the small messes they make now?

Why You Should Teach Kids to Clean

Although many parents would like their kids to clean up after themselves, many think it’s impossible (or even necessary) to teach them the skills.

Instead, parents have no qualms about loading kids up on enrichment activities like: tennis, dancing or even horseback riding.

The thinking goes:

“Why teach them to clean if they can make enough money later to hire a cleaner”?

But, listen. That’s a long way off when their mess will no longer be your responsibility. Right now, their mess is still your mess and I’ll be that it’s driving you nuts.

Besides. Professional cleaning costs lots of money: In fact, it will cost them about $8,016 a year on average. Wouldn’t you rather that they spend that money to travel and come visit you or better yet, take you on an all expense paid family excursion to Hawaii? (I’m just sayin’ 🙂

Either way, I think when you’re setting them up to depend on others for something they can easily learn how to do for themselves is a way to handicap them from future self-sufficiency. 

Believe me I’ve seen plenty of my semi-retired friends complaining about their grown children who have no qualms about requesting “free” house cleaning, meal services along with child care thrown in.

As you know, life can get busy and therefore pretty messy—no matter how rich or how smart or how successful you are.

So as you invest your time, money and effort in preparing your children to get all the best things in life, teach them also how to take care of the little they have now.

10 Simple Strategies For Getting Your Kids to Clean

Although teaching your kids how to clean won’t be easy, there are 10 strategies that has helped me to simplify this process; I’m certain they can help you as well.

1. Match Up the Cleaning With The Child

Many parents at first, including myself, think that our little munchkins are mess makers, not mess cleaners.

But if you can match up the right skill for the right age, kids can learn to do just about anything–even clean!

Young children between the ages of 2-4, for instance, won’t be able to wipe down furniture or sweep up tiny crumbs off the kitchen floor, but they can learn to pick up their toys and put them away after use.

Just as pre-schools use age appropriate learning materials, like building blocks, to help these little guys develop sensory motor skills, you can use “Clean Up Time” at home to teach them how to identify, sort and categorize, their play things into appropriately marked bins.

Showing your little ones how to correctly match up which items go where in this way will empower them to see their world as being manageable and not so overwhelming.

So instead of feeling guilty for putting your littles to “work”, think of these clean up sessions as your very own teachable moments.

Here’s a list of age appropriate chores to give you some more ideas on what kids can do at each stage of their growing process.

The key to this is to start early so that your children can layer on more and more complex skills as they get older and become more proficient at tackling harder tasks later on.

2. Make Cleaning a Team Effort

As you’re teaching your littlest ones the basics of cleaning up after themselves, refrain from making it a one on one competition between family members.

Don’t single out your 4 year old’s efforts, for instance, within earshot of your 13 year old by saying something like:

“Look what a fantastic job you did putting your toys away, young lady. Your room is so much cleaner than your older brother’s!”.

Comparing a younger child’s efforts with an older child’s not only demotivates the older child, it promotes a type of competitiveness that’s counterproductive to fostering a team mentality.

After all, it’s “teamwork that makes the dream work” in any family endeavor. You need not turn this into a race to see who comes out on top!

Instead, celebrate everyone’s efforts by hi-lighting the whole family saying something like:

“Thanks for all your help in getting our home cleaned up today! Your efforts really made this job so much easier!”. 

Don't you just love a just cleaned room?
Our family room just AFTER we cleaned! Love it~

Make cleaning something that everyone contributes to and not something they take personal credit for. This is a great way to show them the value of being a team player—a valuable skill for any child to learn at any age.

3. Set Clear Expectations

Don’t make the common mistake of thinking that your own expectations of clean will match up with your child’s.

Take it from a former educator who has taught both adults and children from all ages and all backgrounds: Mismatched expectations are THE reason why learners disengage from a subject and stop trying to do their best.

I mean how can you do your best, if you don’t know what that best is?

So before you send your 16 year old son off to clean the bathrooms, get on the same page about what a “clean” bathroom would look and smell like for you and for him.

Do you expect smudge free mirrors after he’s wiped it down? Or do you want him to wipe down the grout in the shower stalls, too? (i.e. “What? What’s a grout?”)

Figure out in advance what you expect and what both of you can agree on.

This way, there will be less hard feelings or points of contention when the job is finished. There’s nothing more demotivating for a child after completing a difficult chore to hear that he/she didn’t do it “right”.

Setting clear expectations keeps kids accountable as well as to motivate them to put in their best effort every time.

4. Be Patient

For parents of young children, being patient is probably the toughest part about teaching any new skill. I know because I’m the most impatient when it comes to teaching my own children.

When I’d modeled how to dust the furniture for the first time, for instance, my youngest did the complete opposite of what I asked him to do.

Or when I gave him a cleaning check list for the first time, he doodled on it something too offensive to share on this blog.

But, rather than break in with criticism or worse, by cleaning up for them (which I did countless times), being patient and letting them master the cleaning task on their own time and pace will bring you huge dividends in the end. Soon you’ll find that your children will clean without being prompted to do so.

This is the point at which learners have taken ownership of a task and find joy in the “I can” and not only in what you can–do for them.

5. Break The Cleaning Down

Although for grown ups, a clean bathroom may entail a clean sink, toilet and mirrors, to a child of 13 a clean bathroom may mean a clean toilet.

This is why you’ll need to break down the cleaning tasks into specific individual task items like this for your children at first:

  1. Clean out the insides of the toilets with a toilet brush
  2. Wipe down the sinks and faucets with the cleaner
  3. Clean the toilet bowls with a brush and wipe the seats dry
  4. Dump the used towels into the hamper and hang up fresh new towels

Having taught public schools for several years, I know that most kids, especially grade school children love checking things off.  Young children think linearly at this age, so the clearer you can lay out each step in the process, the more apt they’ll be able to stay focused and get the job done.

You can write out all the tasks on a clip board that they carry around with them, or tie a check list like this one onto their cleaning caddies to keep them motivated and focused.

By showing them how to break down an overwhelming chore into doable tasks in this way, you’ll also be modeling for your kids on how they can use this same strategy to better manage their school work as well.

6. Make Cleaning Non-negotiable

This may sound a bit harsh, but don’t make cleaning an option for your child.

Whenever you allow young children too many choices and options, they will most likely choose the no option; I mean which child would choose to clean the house if she’s given the choice not to?

So instead of asking them, “Which chore would you like to do?” , give them only two viable options: “Would you like to mop the floors or dust the furniture this week?”.

This type of questioning still honors your child’s preferences (I.e. Prevents them from feeling like they’re servants obeying your command) but at the same time, doesn’t allow them an excuse to say no.

This is what’s called a “dual alternative close” and it works beautifully in closing a sale, reducing the number of no-shows in your appointment book, and minimizing conflict in any negotiation.

Remember, asking your child to contribute to the general welfare of their household need not be a power struggle or be open to negotiation.

After all, allowing them to choose and to commit to their choices, will go a long way in teaching them how to be accountable to others as well as being responsible for themselves.

7. Make Cleaning Rewarding

Although what you’re after, when you’re teaching your children the value of cleaning up after themselves, is an intrinsic value, you’ll most likely need some extrinsic motivation to get them started.

Rewards can vary depending on what you think your child values. I usually tie my kid’s clean up , like washing the dishes after dinner and keeping their rooms tidy with their weekly allowance.

Sometimes, I’ll treat my younger son with a bag of candy or a small toy under $25 and my older one with lunch out at his favorite restaurant if they’ve done an exceptionally good job with their clean up throughout the week.

They’re also rewarded with 2 hours of media time to be used at their discretion upon completing all of their cleaning duties on the weekends.

Also, verbal affirmations (not empty puffed up praise) about their overall contribution to the general household maintenance will reinforce the idea that what they do matters. You could say something like:

“Thanks, John for doing the dishes last night. It really makes my breakfast prep in the morning so much easier!”.

Soon, as your children start to see how their cleaning benefits not just themselves but others, they’ll want to serve others not out of duty but out of love.

8. Have Consequences

Although rewarding your kids for a job well done is a given, having a consequence for those times when the job is not done at all, is important, too.

After all this is how life works in the real world—it’s better that children experience these small consequences now rather than later when the consequences can be much more severe.

Initially, the consequences should start small and escalate depending on their level of irresponsibility. 

Although some parents may fear that these reprovals may undermine a child’s self esteem, study after study shows that parents who set clear boundaries and consistently enforce consequences reinforces their child’s sense of security and improves their self esteem.

As long as you clarify your expectations and consequences beforehand and as long as you don’t get all emotional about it, they won’t either.

Some basic consequences that we’ve enforced in our family for when our kids didn’t come through with their cleaning are:

  • Extra chores
  • Loss of media time (i.e. no TV, iPhone use, playing games on the iPad etc.)
  • Loss of allowance

The faster children realize that certain pleasures in life require effort and discomfort to gain, the better they’ll enjoy these benefits later on in life.

Wouldn’t you want them to develop this sense of delayed gratification now while their losses are minimal rather than later on when the consequences can be much more harsh?

9. Stay Consistent

Once you start teaching your children how to clean, make sure that they continue doing it on a regular basis.

If you clean one weekend and skip the next (there’s a soccer game) or let your child get away with shoddy work one weekend and expect them to be better on another, you’ll make the cleaning harder and not easier.

Practice is what makes anything difficult, much easier so put the cleaning on the calendar and make it routine.

Not only will this make the cleaning easier for you and your children, as there will be less to clean, they’ll even look forward to it the more they do it.

10. Make It Fun

Although I’m not very playful by nature, I’ve tried to be more so when it came to teaching my kids how to clean.

There’s a time to be serious and then there’s a time to get goofy and cleaning the house is certainly one of those times when a bit of fun goes a long way.

With pre-schoolers, try singing the “clean up song” with them, for instance. 

Or play some pop music if that’s something your kids enjoy. This is probably the only time when my kids will see me break out into my awkward 80’s dance moves (moon walk anyone?)

Or set a timer to make a game of how quickly one can wipe down the kitchen counter.

Our son throwing his paper airplane
You see that paper airplane? What my son was doing when I asked him to clean up his room recently…

Whatever you can use to disassociate cleaning with displeasure will work. Eventually, your kids will come up with their own coping mechanisms to push through difficult tasks no matter how unpleasant it may seem at first.

Such coping skills will transfer into other areas of their lives, too, where they’ll be able to tackle hard tasks with confidence, knowing that in the end, the joy is in the process and not in the end result.

Kids Who Clean Become Adults Who Succeed

Your children these days are being brought up in a world where they can get anything at anytime from anywhere with just a click of a button. But as easy as it will be for your children to amass all this good fortune, they won’t find it quite as easy to clean it all up.

Learning to clean up what they have now will help children develop the confidence and grit to manage whatever that gets in their way later on.

Using the 10 simple strategies outlined above, teach your children how to manage all that they have so that they can accomplish all that they want.

I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.

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  1. These are great! I’ll be using these for sure. Especially breaking the cleaning down. 🙂

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