Getting Kids to Clean!!

Updated on January 04, 2013
A.H. asks from Van Buren, AR
17 answers

I'm very curious as to know what age you guys start giving your children chores and teaching them to clean up their own messes. A friend and I got into this debate. I told her that I start my kids pretty young not really expecting but just teaching them around the house. She feels that kids shouldn't have any kind of responsibility like that until their are older like 10. What do you guys think? And if you do feel that it is to young could you tell me why so mayb I can understand where she's coming from.

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answers from Tulsa on

I started my son young. When he was little, 12 months to about 2 or so, I made it a game to pick up toys and put them back in the box or bucket. He'd also put his clothes in the laundry basket and shoes in the closet. Those became habits and he picked up on doing those things on his own really quickly. About 3 is when he would take his plate to the kitchen and help me with laundry. Now that he is 6, he cleans up his own messes. If he has made a big mess, I'll either supervise or help out. He's also old enough now that he helps me put his clothes on hangers and put stuff in his drawers. He doesn't have any household chores that are solely his responsibility other than picking up his toys, but those will be coming soon enough.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Wow 10! By 11 I was in charge of deep cleaning my mom's house once a week!

My kids are 3 and almost 5. They have to keep the floor of their bedroom clean, and they have to pick up their toys in the family room. They also clear their place setting after eating, and they are in charge of getting the crumbs up off the floor if I'm not going to immediately vacuum.

We are all part of the same household, and everyone has to contribute to the household economy, if you ask me.

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answers from Columbia on

My daughter has grown up knowing that she is responsible for herself, first and foremost. She is 12 and in 7th grade.

From a VERY early age (like maybe 3) she was clearing her own plate after meals and putting it in the sink or on the counter. When she was old enough to drag out a toy herself and play with it, she was old enough to drag it back and put it away. I just built that time into our day, so I'm not sure she associated it with "chores", per say. As I would get her dressed and undressed, she would put clothes right side out and in dark vs light baskets to "get ready for laundry". Around 5 she started putting away her own clothes after they were washed and by 6th grade she was responsible for her own laundry. Additionally, she always helped me make dinner - sometimes she made the salads, sometimes she picked the veggie, sometimes she put ice in the glasses.... but she has ALWAYS helped me with that, since she physically could.

Just this year (she's 12 and in 7th grade) she has actual "chores" or responsibilities, in addition to her OWN stuff (cleaning her fish bowl, doing her own laundry, homework etc). For example emptying the dishwasher is "her" responsibility. So is bringing in the mail and cleaning the upstairs bathroom.
In addition - she can "work" for me for 2 hours either Saturday or Sunday doing whatever I want her to do and she earns $5 an hour. So sometimes I save up what needs to be shredded and she shreds paperwork for 2 hours. Sometimes she rakes leaves. Sometimes she cleans the fridge or vacuums or whatever.

As far as cleaning up her own messes..... that was kind of how I parented. So, I wasn't real "punishment" oriented. I believe in natural consequences. So.... really, starting with potty training.... if she made a mess, she cleaned it (or helped me) clean it up. Then if there wasn't time for games or whatever.... oh, well. Don't make a mess. If she spilled her drink I didn't yell or punish her. She just had to clean up her mess and then we move on. I think cleaning up your own mess is an IMPERATIVE skill to teach a child.

I am concerned when you say your friend doesn't think kids should have ANY responsibility???? like she waits on them hand and foot? I think they HAVE to be responsible for themselves, as they are able. And they have to learn how to live with other people.

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answers from New York on

I was raised that way. Free from any chores or responsibilities till I was about 11. I think my mom couldn't let go of the jobs, or didn't want to invest in teaching us how, or didn't trust us to do them ourselves, or maybe thought that childhood should be free of those responsibilities. I am not sure. Our DS is 2 and he is inclined to clean, so we are inclined to let him. His favorite game is getting the dustpan and brush out after a meal and sweeping up the floor. Sorting the laundry is another of his favorites. Since he's so inclined, I plan to capitalize on it.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

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answers from Chicago on

My 3 year old knows that he must clear his dishes from the table after every meal--scraps in the garbage, dishes in the sink or dishwasher. He knows that he must clean up the floor in his room each night before bedtime--clothes in the hamper, toys in the bins, books back on the shelf. I reward him by letting him put stickers on his daily chart.

I feel like 1 is too young to EXPECT them to clean, but it is certainly a great time to model it and to ENCOURAGE them to do so. By age 2 it should become a bit more of a priority, and by 3 it should be a responsibility. Of course, I don't just send a 3 yr old off to do it--I supervise him, and help him if needed. Most importantly, I try not to rush him.

A big rule in our house in the kitchen is that each kid must clean under their own chairs. It is helping with the amount of food that gets dropped during meal time, since they know they have to clean it up.

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answers from Los Angeles on

As soon as my kids could walk and pull out toys they were instructed on how and helped to pick up and put back their toys when it was time for clean-up!

~I think as soon as kids can comprehend your voice and follow simple instructions (Can you get me your green ball?) they can and should be taught to help clean up after themselves. I do not make my kids do chores, by any means, at that young of an age but they all knew how to help clean-up their mess when they were done playing with them. Now that my youngest are 9, 7 & (almost) 5 they each clean-up the family/play room, clean-up their own rooms, make their own beds, clear their own dishes (scrape food off and put in the sink), put their dirty clothes into the hamper and bring hamper down to laundry room...small stuff like that. I imagine by 10y/o they will each have a more concrete set of chores? Maybe like vacuuming...or taking out trash and/or recycling...un-loading dishwasher?

When done correctly, cleaning up after yourself should not be something that is perceived as 'hard' but instead it should be looked at as a 'given'....of course you pick up after yourself when you are done! it shouldn't be a punishment just is what it is. Ultimately it should be EASY too, that is the main goal at my house.... : an easy given, just something that happens automatically, something that isn't a big deal what-so-ever!

~I disagree with your friend. I also think it would be much more difficult than it needs to be, to just start one day after they turn 10y/o, to teach them that now they need to start picking up after themselves?!!?

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Wow..your friend would have turned us in for child labor, I guess....

I think ten is WAY too late to start introducing helping around the house. Our attitude: we are all family, we all have things we can do to contribute to keeping our home nice. My son is five and he has some daily chores, like setting the table, helping with recycling, putting his laundry away, putting groceries away, clearing up his play/art spaces, rinsing the basin after brushing his teeth, and pretty much doing what we ask. When my back is funky, we're a team for loading wash from the washer to the dryer, so I don't have to bend over so much.

He also can earn extra money by doing extras like vacuuming the bathroom or folding all the cloth napkins/kitchen linens. This way, he's got opportunities every week to augment his allowance.

If you think about it, the Montessori philosophy is steeped in care of one's environment and self, and no one bats an eye. The classrooms have child-sized brooms, mops and appropriate cleaning supplies. Teaching children to care for and respect their classrooms and home teaches them to care and respect for themselves. It also implies value and worth, in my opinion-- we care for these things because we, ourselves, are worthy of a clean and orderly, comfortable place to be. Children WANT to be able to make sense of their world, and this is one component of it. Not only do they learn that tidy=comfortable, they also learn that they are *capable* of fixing their mistakes, cleaning up their spills and messes. Good all round!

I worry that for families who don't start when children are younger, that those children will have a false degree of expectation in the world. If mom is running around, picking up after them, it isn't as though they have a Mom (in charge)/Child (learning person, following mom's lead) relationship; its more like they have a Child who is being treated like a little prince or princess. Kids don't need servants, they need parents.

I'd be curious to know if these ideas extend to how your friend disciplines too... are the kids held responsible for obeying known rules, are there reasonable, natural consequences for their actions? I just wonder, because cleaning up IS a natural consequence of making a mess.....

Kim O: don't call them 'chores' (I hate that word, too... remember, it's just a word!), call them tasks instead. "Chore" rhymes with "bore"... hee hee. Tasks are small and simple and they just get done!

Oh, and just for comparison: when I was leading a group of 20-30 month old toddlers, all of the children quickly learned to scrape their plates and stack their dishes in "like" stacks (stack of plates, one of cups, etc) instead of just throwing them into the bin. Even the older preschool teachers wondered 'how did you do this? I wish our class would..." Teach them, and then maintain the expectation. And you know-- the little ones were so proud they could do this simple task!

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answers from Pueblo on

It is ALWAYS good to start them when they are young. It is just like respect gotta do it while they are young so when they get older it comes natural. There is nothing wrong with them pitching in.

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answers from Cleveland on

My 3 year old has been cleaning up his own spills since he left the high chair and joined us at the table at about 18 months (of course, I had to really clean it up afterward, but it was more of a teaching experience than anything). He is responsible for taking his own dishes to the sink after a meal. He puts his clothes in the laundry basket when he gets undressed. He helps me unload the dishwasher, feed the dog, and sort socks when I'm folding laundry. He also helps clean up his toys, or does it himself if it's a small job. I feel like this is just teaching him how to function in a family. As he grows, so will his responsibilities.

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answers from Chicago on

We started our kids at 3, starting with their toys and such. Now that my older ones are 13, they don't seem to remember how to clean or "forget". Ugh. One problem we have is their cousins who live upstairs have NO chores whatsoever and have more freedom then my kids do. We will be setting the rules again this weekend when we can all sit down.

But starting young helps alot. When they refused to pick up their toys when they were younger, and I have done this with my 4 yr old, they lost them for awhile.

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answers from New York on

With my kids, I start when they start to make a mess. I teach them how to clean up their messes. Meaning pretty young they learn to put their toys away and clean up minor spills with paper towels.

However at 10 years old they really begin to learn some serious stuff like cooking, washing dishes, ironing, cleaning the floors, washing windows, doing laundry, thoroughly cleaning the bathroom, etc.

I figure my goal is for them to learn how to do it all by age 16 and to practice doing it all for the family from 16-18 so when they become 18 they truly have experience with actually taking care of themselves and the family. It's awesome this way. I have 7 that are 18 and over and 1 to go.

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answers from Houston on

Maybe I am a horrible mom, but my kids began cleaning up after themselves, vacuuming, and cleaning up table after dinner at 4. Now that they are much older ages 11,9, and 4 they have a whole list if weekly chores to accomplish. They all recieve a weekly allowance



answers from San Francisco on

I started teaching mine to pick up their toys when they were able to walk. It's never too early to start instilling good habits! Granted, they don't do a good job, but that's not the point. The point is to instill the habit.

Your friend will regret her decision when she is still cleaning up after her 10+ old children because they just don't get how to do it themselves.



answers from Miami on

Good work ethic starts at a young age in my book. But it has to be age appropriate. As early as 5 i was like come help mommy pick up your toys when she played with something. Around 9 she was to make her bed and put clothes away I have washed. At 11 she now has set chores.



answers from Tulsa on

As soon as my kids could stand and walk, they were asked to take their plates, silverwear and cups from the table to the sink. They also wiped down their high chair or the table. By 18 months they were the trash dumpers, the ones who silverwear away and put laundry into the washing machine. To not ask my kids to contribute until they are 10 is ludicrous.



answers from Atlanta on

While I don't ever want to give my children chores (not sure why, I'm just anti chore), I do expect them to clean up after themselves - put their clothes away, pick up their toys, clean their spots at the dinner table, etc. I also expect them to help me out if I request it (i.e. could you let the dog out, put this in recycling for me, etc). My baby started doing simple things like putting his laundry in the hamper starting at 1.5.


answers from San Francisco on

Age appropriate, personal responsibility.
For example a two and a half to three year old can help set and clear the table, put their trash in garbage can and pick up their toys (if they have a LOT of toys they will need help with this.)
As they get older they can start doing things like feeding the pets, watering plants, loading/unloading the dishwasher, etc.
None of these chores are hard or time consuming, but they DO teach a child to take responsibility for themselves and their messes, as well as contribute to the family.
A ten year old who has NEVER had to clean up after themselves is going to be very difficult to train.

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