Can this really be done? I’m not talking about kids that begrudgingly mutter a well rehearsed “Yes, Mom” under their breath while barely containing an epic eyeroll.
I’ve seen just about every bad reaction in the book to the dreaded “It’s time to clean up”, but over time I’ve helped my kids develop much improved attitudes toward keeping our home tidy.
The key factor for us was undergoing a huge household junk purge, but even with the stuff gone, we needed ongoing work and practice in our minds and attitudes to develop healthy patterns about the keeping of our home. It takes time, but it’s a sweet thing when you start to see the results…
I hope these tips inspire you! I know it can be a lot of information to digest, especially if you are where I was several years ago, with a cluttered home and cluttered mind, tired and ready to make a change. I’m still learning of course, but here’s what I know…
1. Be an example
There are no double standards here, I keep my things tidy and tidy the house regularly. I don’t tell them to pick up their room, when my room is a disaster. What they see me do has an enormous impact on what they view as the standard for tidiness in our home! When they see me wash up right after dinner, that impacts their thinking on what is “normal” for keeping a home.
It’s gone to far, and I realized this when they started calling me “Cindermama”. But over time I’ve learned a lot about balance, and though I work hard, I don’t fret over my chores, or allow them to rule my emotions. I try to work how I want them to work: Cheerfully, efficiently, and quickly.
2. Stay positive and be kind
I know this is easier to say than do! When things need to get done, I have to remember to introduce the subject without anger or frustration. This is some deep character work right here. But starting off with “You kids never keep your room picked up” or “I can’t believe you let me do all the work around here” is the perfect way to make my kids hate tidying up, and learn to resent me. Blaming someone really doesn’t help, even if it’s truly their fault. It’s just brings a sour flavor to the event. Speaking kindly always, ALWAYS helps the situation.
I have to remind myself that I am in charge of my emotions. If I am angry or frustrated, that is my sin. My children are not responsible for making me that way. Repentance and self-control are required on my part before I can train my children with wisdom.
3. Give them jobs they can succeed at
My children cannot succeed at a chore that is beyond their ability, and this will make them feel like it’s hopeless to even try. It’s supper important for them to feel that they can do a job well and completely! This may mean that in the beginning, they don’t get much done. Instead of saying “clean all the smudges of this wall” I can just say “clean the sticky off this door handle”. The age of each kid certainly has something to do with this, but the confidence and work ethic are more important and need to be built up gradually.
I still sometimes give my kids a job that may be to hard, and if they are struggling I don’t get upset. I assign a bigger kid to be their “assistant” (Oh, they love that!) or help them myself, then share in the dual victory.
4. Don’t use rewards/bribes regularly
It can be so tempting to say “I’ll give you a cookie if you clean your room”. I’m not totally against using rewards for motivation, but if this becomes a pattern, soon they will not see the point of helping out unless they are being paid somehow. And if they don’t get a reward, they will think “I did all that for nothing”. Their work will seem worthless if they don’t get the wage they were working for, and they will not be able to enjoy the accomplishment.
5. Finish quickly
Burn out is real, for mother and child. Hustle, stay positive and get it done. And if you can’t get it done quickly, it’s ok to just set a smaller goal and call it good. Rather than saying “This whole space must be perfect before we can rejoin the rest of society”, I’d rather have them just grab all the laundry and stack up the books, and call it a success! If you push to much, it’s bound to backfire.
6. Find Routines
It can feel very jarring when kids are just happily playing, then mom randomly says in a panicked tone “We have to clean up!” My kids know that the times I usually ask them to do a quick tidy up are usually before watching a TV show, before nap time, before Dad gets home, and before bedtime.
These times are not exclusive, but they are a normal part of our life. In fact they have gotten used to this so much that they will even tidy up the house before they ask me if they can turn on the TV. Win!
If you are not yet in a good pattern, I suggest at least giving a bit of a warning. For example, I would say something like “In a few minutes, we are going to tidy up your room for five minutes, working together as a team.” It takes time to get good patterns going, don’t give up!
7. Give them strategies to use
Confidence and speed need to be built! Seeing a gigantic mess feels so defeating! It’s too much to think about all at once. Breaking it up into small, manageable tasks is way, way easier! I often assign little task that can be done in a few minutes, like “make all the books into a stack”, or “match up the shoes”. Toys can be a big problem, but taking them one section at a time can really help. “Find all the train tracks” becomes a treasure hunt!
8. Work as a team!
We often work together, and it’s almost always better. Jobs get done so much more quickly, I can delegate tasks to different kids, and they can encourage each other to keep going! They actually like when I set a timer and see how long it takes them. We never keep track of the score but somehow they just love repeating to each other “We cleaned our room in four minutes!” Teamwork keeps spirits up and there’s someone to high five when the work is complete.
9. Practice decluttering
This is one of my favorites! If we come across something that is broken or no longer needed, it goes to the giveaway, right then and there.
I’ve LOVE to write more about getting kids on board with decluttering, but one thing that really helps is giving them phrases to express why something is going. They will usually say something like “I used to play with this all the time, but now I hardly ever do. If I give it away I’ll never have to clean it up again!” Music to my ears, kid, music to my ears.
10. Take pleasure in a job well done
This is the best part, taking a moment to just enjoy the accomplishment! I LOVE to acknowledge the success and enjoy it! “This looks way better” or “Oh man, look at the difference that made. Amazing!”. This is the real reward for the work, it’s a great feeling to reach the goal, even if it was a small one. Feel the joy, even if all you did was stack up the books!
I hope these tips well get you well on your way to raising tidy kids, and living together in a peaceful and pleasant home! Living with less has been such a wonderful blessing to this family, and I hope it blesses your as well!