We all know how adorable children can be with their big eyes, cute smiles, rosy cheeks and innocent looks. However, those who have one or more of them, have experienced how messy kids can be and how annoying it is to constantly repeat one and the same thing: “Put it back where you got it from!”. There is one simple rule when forging organising and any other types of habits: If you do one thing every day for 28 days, it becomes a habit. This one is valid for you, not for your kids, unfortunately. It might take longer for cleaning to become a habit for them. But it’s your job as a parent to spend a little time every day to try and teach them. Here are 8 useful tips which will help you create organising habits in your child:
1. Be firm about the rules
Every time your child starts to play with new toys, make remarks of the sorts: “Before we play with the puzzle, let’s put the crayons away, okay?”. Gently remind them that it’s not allowed to leave their toys lying around and creating a mess. Teach them that once they’re done playing with one toy, they need to put it away in a designated area before picking something else. Sooner or later it will turn into a routine, and you will be thankful for it because you’ll step on legos less frequently.
2. Be patient
Children often have enthusiasm, but they lack certain motor skills. If they do something wrong in their attempt to clean or organise, don’t get mad and certainly don’t yell – this will destroy their motivation and they will pull away from trying anything new any time soon. If they spill something, just give them a few towels and show them how to clean it up properly. Children learn from all kinds of experiences, both good and bad, but if they notice any kind of negativity in us, they will pull away and will start being reluctant towards trying new things. You have to show them that it’s normal to make mistakes from time to time, and it’s never too late to make things right.
3. Make cleaning fun
Usually, children are very sensitive to reward and punishment approaches, so whenever they do a good job – reward them and be persistent. If you want to mobilise your children to clean and establish the willingness needed to do it in them, give them nice treats. However, just because your kids will start associating cleaning with good outcomes, doesn’t mean you should see them as your personal cleaners. Don’t expect too much from them, and don’t give them tasks that are your duties. They will, eventually, figure out that you are just exploiting them and they will start doing the exact opposite.
Instead, use the fact that they have a very vivid imagination. Play out their fantasies, while cleaning the home. Pretend it is all a game and whoever puts all the toys in the “treasure box” will win a prize. But don’t give them money as a prize, because they will expect to get paid for it every time and you will be in big trouble. When you reward them, do it in terms of more playtime, more kisses, hugs, tokens of appreciation, etc.
4. Don’t use cleaning as punishment
Using cleaning as a punishment is a very obvious mistake which later on ruins the child’s connection to cleanliness. Instead of punishing your child with cleaning, you should always associate this task with fun things – games, treats, rewards. Use it as a quality parent-child time, look at it as a moment in which you lay foundations and set up a good example for their future. Remember that you teach them not only how to clean and organise, but also responsibility and accountability, which are important skills for adults.
5. You are not there to be their boss
Even though sometimes we might feel impatient, it’s not a good idea to boss your kids around in terms of cleaning. You should only help and navigate them. Lead them through the process of cleaning while explaining what you are doing and why. It’s more like cooperation than you bossing them. There are not only ways to make kids clean their messes, but there are ways to make them like doing it. You just have to act with gentle encouragement rather than criticism.
6. Explain to them how you do things
In the eyes of a child, every mundane task can seem like the most interesting thing, it all depends on how you present it. And kids love well-presented explanations, they help them build their view on how things work in the world. How sock balls are made and why, why do we wipe the dust from the TV, how dishes are washed and why bacteria are bad for our health – these are all important questions, which need to be sorted with your child. When you explain it in an engaging manner, your child will want to try some of the new things they’ve learned. Allow them, even if it is a waste of time and it’s messing with your well-established routine. The important part is that they want to learn, and you need to provide them with the space to do it, to keep their motivation.
7. Set a good example
Have you heard of Bandura’s Social learning theory (1977)? In a few words, what Albert Bandura found, is that children learn through example. They observe an adult’s behaviour being rewarded or punished, and they adopt the behaviour that was rewarded. Simply put, if you always leave the remote control where it doesn’t belong and you get away with it, your children believe they could do the same.
So, your child needs to believe that cleaning is good and if mummy and daddy do it, it must be a “cool” thing to do. After observing you, your kid will become curious about how you do things and why. Once you get their attention, don’t let it slip away. As you probably already know, a kid’s attention span is not very big – so be quick and try to keep it.
8. Remember to celebrate the small things
Don’t make it all about the work, kids need to be kids after all. They explore and learn how to deal with the world by being messy at times. So, when your entire family works together to get the home clean and organised, remember to celebrate the occasion with small treats for everyone, like a family outing or a fun movie night. Cherish every moment together and build positive memories in your children from the earliest age.