Last year I put a lot of thought and energy into planning how we would spend our time as a family during the summer. I want my two school age kids to have some carefree summer moments, but I also want to make the most of the time I get with them. I want to use our days very deliberately.
I knew that some of that time needed to be spent teaching them that everyone in our family needs to contribute to keeping our home clean. I was a slob as a child, and I still battle my bad habits. My parents definitely tried to teach me better, so I know firsthand that kids can be awful about doing chores. How could I teach my kids to learn the satisfaction of a job well done?
I have been really happy with the idea I came up with and I am using it again this year. For the summer, they are my apprentices.
We work side by side, mastering the art of cleaning. Colin is my bathroom apprentice. Once a week, I have an hour worked into our schedule where we clean the bathrooms together – top to bottom. Gabe is my kitchen apprentice, so I do the same with him in the kitchen. Here are some important tips for making this happen:
1. Make a list of everything that you need to do in the room, in the order it needs to happen. Make it as detailed as possible. Trust me on this. This will keep both of you on track, and it makes the job seem far less overwhelming if you can focus on one small task at a time. It also helps your child to learn not do a sloppy job – they have to remember all the small details.
2. If you have more than one child, find a way to keep the other ones busy. My solution (this is one of my favorite parts of the apprenticeships): while Colin is working with me, it is Gabe’s “chore” to play with his other two siblings. He plays what they want to play, he helps them, and he keeps them busy. Oliver really eats this up. He loves to have the attention of his brother. On Gabe’s day, Colin does it. If they fight with them or stop taking care of them, they have to help clean.
3. Take it seriously, and make them take it seriously. You are teaching them something that is important. Don’t allow them to slack off. You will be tempted to just take over and do it yourself sometimes, but don’t. They won’t know how to do some of the simplest tasks, but patiently teach them to the basics. They must at least try their best, which brings me to my next point…..
4. You will get pushback, especially in the beginning. There will be times when one of your kids absolutely refuses to cooperate, or they complain while they are working. Create consequences for misbehavior while they are working with you, but never consequences that allow them to get out of the work. For example, I will send the refuser to their room for a specified time. I don’t work without them while they are in time out. After the time is over, we pick right back up where we left off. There are always fun activities planned for later in the day, and those activities do not happen until we finish with chores.
So, now that I have painted a not-too-fun picture, let me share with you some things I love about this little program.
- For starters, my bathroom and kitchen get scrubbed once a week. This is always my goal, but it so does not happen during the school year. With this program, I have to do both tasks every week, because it would be completely unfair if I did one and not the other.
- Once my kids get into a groove, they talk to me a lot. We get great one and one time.
- I am really proud that I am teaching my boys to clean. I think their wives will thank me someday.
- My kids have (slowly) started to learn that it is so much easier to just buckle down and work than put it off or complain about it.
- They have learned that they are old enough to do things they thought they couldn’t do, and I have been surprised to find that they get really excited about doing some new things, like mopping and scrubbing toilets.
- They gain confidence in themselves. Self esteem comes through real accomplishments, and teaching them like this does so much more for them than anything I tell them.
Let me mention that these aren’t the only two chores they are do. We also have morning chores and afternoon chores that they do without me. These are just huge chores that I wanted them to learn how to tackle with confidence.
So, how about you? What have you found to be successful in teaching your children to learn how to work and to take responsibility for your home’s cleanliness?