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Starting Kids on Chores
Cleaning with toddlers in the home is like trying to drain the Pacific Ocean. You can work and work and work and never see a dent!

Have you ever spent twenty minutes vacuuming, only to turn around and find that a two-year-old has been following behind, munching on crackers all the while? Housework is a never ending chore. When my children were small, cleaning was almost impossible because:

1. The kids would roll around on the bed as soon as I started to make it.

2. They would pile the clean laundry in the living room up like a pile of leaves and jump in it.

3. They would write on the walls.

4. When I told them to clean off the walls they would also use the soapy water on all the books in the bookshelves.

5. When I took the markers away they would paint on each other with sunscreen.

6. They dropped popsicles on the couches.

7. They hid apple cores behind furniture.

What's the point of cleaning when that's going on around you?

And toddlers also have a sixth sense whenever water is involved. If you pull out a mop, they will come running and want to help. And what do we do? We send them away so we can just get it done.


The emphasis on keeping a clean home is misplaced. When kids are small, perfect will be difficult to achieve. But what we can do is make it more likely that the house will stay clean as they grow. And make it more likely that our children will be able to clean when they are older!

Life is chaotic when the kids are little, but let's harness the energy they do have, and the instinct to explore and learn new skills, and teach them to clean now. Here's how:

Let Them Do a Portion of Your Job
If you're mopping, hand them a wet cloth and ask them to clean a part of the floor, or the bottom of the fridge door. If you're folding laundry, have them do the facecloths and the dishcloths. And teach them to do it in halves!

If you're using a chemical cleaner, fill a spray bottle with water and let them "clean" the bottom of some kitchen cabinets. Train them to start doing these jobs, and by the time they're 3 or 4 they'll actually be proficient at it!

Summer Chore chartImage by SharkeyinColo via Flickr

Give Them Their Own Specfic Tasks
Even a 3-year-old can dust a coffee table! A toddler at that age can also learn to put toys in a toybox, or clothes in a hamper. Instead of doing all the cleaning for them, have them do a specific job that is at their level, easy, and fast.

Keep Track of Their Chores
On a prominent place in your home, such as the fridge, keep a list of their little jobs, and add stickers each time they are completed. Give positive feedback for when the children complete their chores. Amazingly, the more they do, the more they will want to do.

Make Chores Routine
If chores become routine for a child, similar to brushing their teeth before they go to bed, they are more likely to do them without complaint. So have a clean-up time at the same time everyday, such as right before dinner or right before naptime. If you've assigned chores like folding the facecloths, matching the socks, or dusting the baseboards, give one to them each day. Children are far more likely to participate readily at three or four if it is something done on a daily basis, rather than on a weekly basis.

Your home will not be perfect when the children are little, but perfect is not the aim in parenting. Raising independent, capable children is. So start them cleaning when they're young, and they'll be more likely to help you later. And more likely to grow into responsible adults!

Instead of bemoaning the fact you don't have time to clean, take the time to train your kids. You just may find that cleaning is not such a chore after all.

Want some free household organization charts to make cleaning with kids easier? Download them here!

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At 8:49 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

I couldn't agree more!!

When the twins were small, we cleaned together -- it took us a long time, but we made our chores "fun" and did a little each day.

Now that the twins are 8, I'm amazed at how productive they are during our "family clean-up" times. We set the timer for 30 minutes, blast the music, and all work to get a portion of our home clean and in shape.

Bonus -- the kids have more ownership for keeping things clean. Our preschooler dumped a box of legos, and one of the older boys moaned, "Noooo!! I JUST picked those up!" He very patiently worked with our preschooler to help him clean up his mess.

And now I have another 3-year old helper. I go with the love of water theme, and give him a plastic squirt bottle filled with water and paper towels. He "spot cleans" the kitchen floor, the entryway and the bathroom with his special cleaner. Bonus -- he's occupied for quite awhile and I can get the rest done.

Our home is by no means perfect, but I don't feel like a slave to it. We do a little every day and it's clean enough for this stage of life!


At 2:51 PM , Blogger Kelli said…

Ah yes, toddlers and chores. Since I have one (one of my total of three children), we're very familiar with this. Another thing that helps us is rules. Consistent rules such as no eating or drinking in the bedrooms. We only eat at the table or in the kitchen. No playdough in bedrooms. Only on the porch or at the table. Do they always listen? NO.

I think one big thing to remember is that it's important to stay consistent as a parent not only for the kids, but for you too. The more consistent you are as a parent, the more organized you feel because there are set rules and you have them memorized. I'm trying to do this with discipline now...if you do this, then this will happen.

We have four areas in which a child may earn a spanking: physically hurting someone else (biting, scratching, kicking, etc.), lying, defiance (saying 'no') and disobidience.

Other actions may earn them an extra chore or a loss of priveledge: arguing/complaning/whining, teasing, stealing, name calling, disrespect and irreverant behavior at church. The greatest thing is that we have Bible verses next to each offense and we can go to scripture and explain things to our children using God's Word.

It's just very important that as a parent, my husband and I have these memorized to stay consistent.

You can purchase this poster and more at:

Thanks for sharing Sheila!!!


At 9:59 PM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Wow, I am a fairly strict and no nonsense mom, but even I find Kelli's approach rather heavy-handed (no pun intended). I'm a firm believer in natural / logical consequences, even for my toddlers.

I absolutely agree, Sheila, about starting kids on housework early (at the age when they WANT to help), even if their input is really counterproductive. I would go so far as to say that expecting less than perfection is still shooting too high. My house is usually an absolute mess - but me and my toddlers are constantly doing housework. When it does get completely clean and tidy, it stays that way for a grand total of about 15 minutes, unless the kids actually leave the house. Toddlers AND teenagers make MESSES.

The real challenge is not even getting them all involved in chores (and this WILL pay off one day), but teaching them not to make so many messes in the first place! :) I've still got a LONG way to go.


At 7:38 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

My first reaction to Kelli's post was the same, HD...but I think she shifted gears from cleaning to discipline.

Consistent discipline IS so important...and it sounds like Kelli is in the early, early years. I dare say my twins spent most of 2 on time out...but three sure was fun! :-)

And I agree -- the "no food outside of the kitchen rule" goes a LONG way in keeping things clean. We make exceptions for family movie night or if someone is sick. Otherwise, the snacks stay at the table.


At 7:42 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Hi ladies!

Happy Domestic, you're right! They won't be perfect, and your house won't be perfect when they're young. It won't really be perfect until they move out! But I just aim for manageable and sane, and good enough that people can come over and find a place to sit and a glass to drink out of.

The thing about toddlers that you really alluded to is that they LIKE cleaning when they're 3 or 4, and when we push them away, we discourage that. Instead, we should nurture it. No, they won't be a big help at 4. But they can do some things!

Kelli, I think you're right about consistency, too. I'm not sure Kelli is really as heavy handed as Happy Domestic assumed! Often when we write posts we sound more militant than we really are. For instance, I often say that I punish kids for disobedience, which I do, but the truth is such punishments are only 1 a year at most, because I define disobedience pretty leniently, and on the whole, the kids don't do it! To get an "extreme" punishment, they have to do something pretty extreme, and they just don't.

The punishment may be on the books, but it doesn't get used very often, because--and here's the big thing--if we're consistent in the little things, we usually prevent the big things!

Llama Momma, I think you just offered incredible hope for everyone with toddlers, to know that by age 8 they're actually helpful! That's awesome!

Blessings, ladies!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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