How to get kids to help you clean up

HOME 911 - Tanya T. Lara () - February 4, 2006 - 12:00am
Dear Home 911,
I am a stay-at-home mom and I have three children, ages four, six and nine. We don’t have a maid at home. At this stage, our house looks like a hurricane went through it and no matter how much I clean up after the kids, the house is a perpetual mess. Most of the clutter is theirs – their toys, clothes and books – even though I constantly remind them to put away their things. My husband also helps, but I know he is somewhat disappointed by the state of the house. How do I teach the kids to be neat? – Alma

We hear it all the time: being a mother is a full-time job. What we don’t hear is that being a wife and mother is also a full-time housekeeping job. It’s not just raising kids and taking care of them that take up moms’ time, it’s also running the household, and a chunk of that is taken up by cleaning.

The kids first. When you tell them to put away their things, praise them but resist the urge to reward or promise them something in return. Compensating them for cleaning up is like telling them they are doing something "extra," something beyond their call of duty. Instead, tell them you expect them to do this. Should you punish them for not cleaning up? It depends on you and your husband, but do not make empty threats. If you say no TV for the whole day if they don’t clean up, then don’t buckle down. I know it’s easier said than done when you’re harassed and at your wit’s end and you just want some quiet time for yourself, but psychologists tell us that when kids get away with something small, they grow up thinking they can get away with bigger things as well.

Enlisting their help around the house teaches them to be responsible not just for themselves but also for the people around them.

Tara Aronson, author of Simplify your Household, has these tips to get them to help around the house:

Ages 3 and 4: Encourage them to put away playthings after use. With supervision, they can dust low furniture and water plants. By making cleanup the precursor to a fun activity, you can make cleaning an enjoyable, confidence-building activity.

Ages 5 to 9: They can wipe up spills, make their beds, set the table, fold laundry items, unpack groceries and help with cooking tasks like washing vegetables.

Ages 10 to 13: They can help load and unload the washing machine, prepare their own lunch to school, dust and vacuum, do the dishes, clean their rooms.

Ages 14 to 17: They can tackle bigger jobs such as cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. Kids at this stage are really learning life skills.

Adding such responsibilities to your child’s daily routine lightens the workload for everyone and instills a stronger sense of your family as a team.

Lifestyle assistant editor Therese Jamora-Garceau makes cleaning up a fun activity with her three-year-old daughter Isobel, who is a budding Cinderella. Her tips: "Cleaning up has to become a habit. Kids have to perceive it as a fun activity, not a chore. Make it creative, pretend it’s a game. When Isobel was younger, she would copy what I or the yaya was doing. We cultivated her interest by buying her a toy vacuum, a small broom, and her own spray bottle and dust cloth."

Therese also suggests that you provide nice storage bins in their rooms where they can put their toys and things. They’re not unlike adults in that regard – our storage bins, our makeup cases, our bookshelves have to be nice to motivate us to use them!

As for the husband, it’s good that he helps. But treat him as you would the kids: praise him, but don’t reward him for doing his duty. Oh, all right, maybe a kiss!

I’ve often said this to couples without maids: set aside a time every day to put away all the obvious clutter in the house like newspapers, magazines, books, toys, CDs, DVDs, bags and clothes used during the day. If you tell your kids that for half an hour all of you will be clearing up, you set their minds to this routine.

Seven days a week with three kids, one husband, and a house to keep in order – that’s a huge job for one person. If you have the budget, hire a cleaning lady to come once a week or every other week to do the heavy cleaning like scrubbing the floors, and cleaning windows and light fixtures, dusting the bric-a-bracs, ironing the clothes, so you can have more time for yourself. Make it a rule that on one day of the week, mommy gets a break from cleaning – daddy and the kids will have to do everything while you catch your breath.
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Lint On Me
Dear Tanya,
I love the color black. My closet is full of black shirts and blouses, the problem is that after several washings the color fades. What can I do to prevent this? And how can I prevent lint from attaching to my black shirts? – Black Lady

I love black, too. It’s God’s gift to women with bulges. When you hear me cursing over the washing machine, it’s probably because I’ve forgotten to remove tissue paper from the pockets of my pants – again! – and it’s ripped into a tiny million pieces and attached to my dark-clored clothes. It’s a bitch to remove, especially when the clothes are still wet. But then again, I’ve also accidentally washed my husband’s wallet and tossed the TV remote in the machine, so I shouldn’t be surprised whenever that happens.

To prevent color fading, use the right detergent. There’s a Perwoll liquid detergent specifically for dark-colored clothes, which is a little more expensive than powder. Whenever I’m at the supermarket, I spend a lot of time deciding on what detergent to buy, which tells you two things about me: I obsess about the small stuff, and I’m married to a man who’s very specific about the smell of his clothes but lets our dog steal his socks to chew on.

Anyway, my brand du jour is Surf with its seasonal Christmas scent because it doesn’t have "active whiteners" pasted all over its packaging. Unfortunately, most brands boast having whiteners in their formulation, including Surf. I think only Breeze has a specific one for colored clothes among the locally made brands.

I’m sure you sort your laundry properly (not just by color but also by type; you don’t want to wash lint-factory towels with your black shirts, do you?) Even before you toss your clothes into the hamper, shake them to keep the lint to a minimum.

If you use a clothes dryer, put some paper fabric softener, which is supposed to be anti-static and help remove lint. Another handy tool is 3M’s lint roller, available at most supermarkets and hardware stores. It picks up lint easily and is a lifesaver for people with dogs. Our labrador Freeway sheds like crazy; I don’t think I have a piece of clothing that doesn’t have her yellow hairs. In fact, she thinks of me as her lint roller – she likes to jump up and rub against my legs, especially when I’m wearing black pants!
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Home 911 Has A New Text Line!
Readers who texted their questions and suggestions in the past three weeks must resend their text to the new Home 911 number – 0927-9148817. My apologies. The SIM just gave up on me.

Home 911 answers questions about the home – cleaning problems, DIY projects, decorating ideas, home store resources, and things you’ve always wanted to know about but never had the friends to ask. Home 911 runs twice a month and will ask the experts on your behalf. For questions and suggestions, send e-mail to or or text 0927-9148817. Please include your first name/pseudonym when you text or e-mail. All questions will be answered through this column – Tanya is too lazy and too chatty to text her answers.

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