Little girl peering into a washing machine.


The Life-Changing Magic Of Getting Your Kids to Tidy Up

Aug 2, 2017

As a single parent to twin preschoolers and a tween, the concept of extra time is a vague memory from when my skin still contained collagen. Perhaps these days you can relate. 

I’m always looking for life hacks that will cut down on housework and save time. My aversion to work could be related to the luggage under my eyes but, honestly, I’m also a very lazy person. Besides, why have so many kids, if not for free labour, right?

"Instead of letting my kids’ free time be consumed entirely with play and relaxation, I teach them how to contribute to the housework."

I hear friends’ horror stories: all the housework is theirs alone to do; their families manage only to get in the way; the constant cooking, dishes, garbage sorting and wet towels left everywhere.

And perhaps I sound like a flippant and selfish slacker, with my priorities way off. But I’ve had to teach three boyfriends how to do laundry. These were adults whose mothers had done it for them from birth until the day they moved out. I wonder, did these grown men have moms who just assumed they couldn’t do laundry for themselves?

Forget that. Instead of letting my kids’ free time be consumed entirely with play and relaxation (which is this week’s Good Parents commandment, right?), I teach them how to contribute to the housework. It's all part of coaching them to be happy, productive people.

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Child development experts have my back. They say that kids benefit from responsibilities and the c-word: chores. Assigning dishwasher duty shows that you think they’re responsible, mature and capable. That breeds confidence, and they start to think of themselves as more capable, too. This is a win for everyone, including their future partners.

I’ve lucked out, honestly. When my tween was a toddler, I discovered two things: she loved organizing and the magical question, “can you please help Mama?" She cleaned her room; organized media, books and art supplies; put away groceries; sorted dirty laundry; and paired clean socks. Now, she wants compensation, of course, but I can still revel in those glory days while I’m nagging her to take out the garbage and clear the table.

One of my preschoolers also loves to clean. It’s sweet how he will steal the broom from me, wield it as if he’s from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon until I back away and then scatter the crumbs of 1,000 Goldfish crackers all over the apartment. He’s learning.

"They say that kids benefit from responsibilities and the c-word: chores."

I’m learning, too. His twin sister is different. We call her the fox because she’s a crafty thief, but she’s more like a housecat — she delivers affection when she feels like it, likes to sleep and trails messes everywhere she goes.

Here's a trick that works: telling a resistant child to clean a room will be a battle of wills, but if you store small, relative groups of toys in plastic buckets, you’re setting them up for success. When you hand over a bucket and ask them to fill it with My Little Ponies, they might race to do it. Somehow, this imparts pride that snowballs and they race to collect and fill another bucket.

As they get older, the buckets get bigger. Buckets become laundry hampers. Then, the real magic: when they can do it all themselves and two days without clean underwear practically guarantees you’ll have laundry service.

Article Author Terra Atrill
Terra Atrill

Read more from Terra here.

Terra has been writing online from her Vancouver living room since 2004, publishing an embarrassing number of vanquished personal blogs, and contributing to popular parenting and pop culture sites. She also runs a company, but that’s fodder for an entirely different bio. Facetious, dynamic and incredibly humble, this INTJ loves gluten, medium double-doubles, Ryan Reynolds, ugly-cry worthy family dramas, and minimalism. Ironically, she’s a wheat-sensitive, coffee-forgetting, easily-distracted, dehydrated single parent, literally surrounded by piles of clothes her twin preschoolers and tween keep growing out of. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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