I spoke to a friend of mine recently, and she said it was easier to train a puppy than to make her husband and child help her with chores. “Like father like son” she said, and I felt quite sorry for her, so this one goes out to all mums out there, who are alone in the messy struggle. In this article I will focus more on how to trick your kids into cleaning, because let’s face it, if you mother-in-law spoiled your husband beyond repair, better get a puppy and train it now – you’ll have better chances!
Not only there are ways to make kids clean their messes, but there are also ways to make them like it. Does that sound like some grand manipulative, evil scheme? Good. That’s exactly what it is! Have you seen a child eager to do its homework to only get more math problems as a reward? I have! And I must tell you, that was the most pleasant cup of coffee with a mum in public I’ve had in years! Her little princess is one of the cutest and smartest little girls I’ve seen. She sat quietly the whole time, solving her math problems, while we managed to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, she plays and is wild and loud when it is socially acceptable. Sitting in a coffee shop and making noise and scenes is a no-no. As I was sitting there, I thought why not condition your munchkin to do chores the same way?
Let’s see what psychology books have to say about it. Besides being persistent and patient, you need to lead by example. You probably don’t know that, but there was this child psychologist Bandura, who came up with the Social Learning Theory back in the 1961. According to it, kids learn behaviour from observation and reward. If the observed behaviour gets rewarded, they are more likely to adopt it as well. Talk to them about cleaning – let them understand how important it is. Kids love to feel ‘important’ and to be given responsibilities. They want to grow up quickly and be just like you. For once, you can use this to your own advantage. Make cleaning look like something fun that cool people do and watch them get excited about it. Of course, let them know they can’t fold the laundry unless they prove ‘worthy’ by picking up all their toys first.
Here are some exciting game ideas:
- Play dare. “I bet you cannot put everything back at its place in under 5 minutes”. Well, what can I say about this? I bet, no, I am sure this would work on some adults too! Alternatively, you can compete with them and let them win.
- When your child cleans, read them a story. Talk to them, so that they don’t feel isolated while cleaning. You can make up your own stories with the toys they are putting away.
- Why not engage in some game of Pirate’s Loot. All the toys are treasure, now all we need is a chest to hide them in! Aaargh!
- Charity. To prevent clutter build-up in your home, establish a rule – when a new toy comes around, something old goes away. This will teach them generosity too. Show them how many kids don’t have what they benefit from every day.
Some rules for you too:
Don’t use your children as your personal maids. They will figure it out soon enough. You are there to teach them good habits that will stick with them for the rest of their lives – remember, they are watching you closely. The minute you stop cleaning and show dissatisfaction, they will too.
Don’t use cleaning as punishment, otherwise your child will associate it with negative things and will be reluctant to do it. Save this form of punishment for when you have teenagers at home.
Don’t use monetary rewards. Children should learn to clean, not because they get money out of it, but because living in a clutter and germ-free home is healthy and good for all of us. Rewards are acceptable only if they come in the form of hugs and kisses, otherwise they will never move out and will exploit you till they are 30.
Hope this helps – if not, get a puppy and train it!