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Getting kids involved in spring cleaning

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Cleaning without whining. Hopefully.

When spring cleaning season -- spring, of course -- rolls around, you may be chomping at the bit to clean up and clean out and start fresh. But your kids might not be so eager. Still, you need to get them involved -- or else you may be on the hook for a sitter to look after them while you clean, clean, clean. How do you get your kids involved in spring cleaning without a litany of complaints and whining, especially when you’re cleaning out their stuff?

girl in shelves

As part of your spring cleaning, you want to clean out your kids' rooms and play areas -- and wouldn't it be great if the kids would help? They don't use half this stuff, anyway, and they must recognize it, so having them help will make the clean up go so much faster, right? Right?

Nope. It doesn't quite work that way. Since when do kids use logic? If you want your kids to help with the spring cleaning, it's going to take a different approach.

It starts with a conversation

You may feel that almost primal itch to clean, but your kids might not. Before you jump in and start tearing apart the twins' room, talk to them about what you are doing, what it will accomplish and how they can help. If the clean out is of "their" stuff, give them a little autonomy -- let them choose things not to be touched. For example, a favorite box of novelties from the county fair or an old hat. You may be able to toss it next year, but this year, leave it be.

Small tasks

If you tell your kids, "We're going to clean your whole room," they may feel a little daunted by the prospect. Instead, try focusing on small tasks. Start with the bookcase, then move on to the toy bins, then later the closet, and so on. Smaller chunks of cleaning are much easier to understand and accomplish.

Set periods of time

Try engaging your children in cleaning tasks for set periods of time and set a timer if you have to. For younger kids, try 15 minutes of cleaning at a time before taking a break. For older kids, an hour or more is reasonable. It may take some experimenting to figure out the right time chunks for your kids, but don't give up.

A positive attitude-- in balance

Sure, your kids might dawdle and not be as focused in their cleaning like you are -- but they are kids. Try keeping the attitude light and positive. Maybe put on some upbeat music and sing along. Try cracking a joke here or there -- or reaching out for a tickle on the belly along with some encouraging words for the job they are doing.

And if the progress seems to just stop, it might be a sign to take a break and start up again a little later. Keep that balance in the process.

Rewards

Reward your child for hard work completed with words and, if appropriate, something else. Ice cream? A trip to the batting cages? A new book for your avid reader who struggled so hard to clean out his bookcase of old favorites?

Until such time as your children feel that primal spring cleaning urge on their own (it may well be a matter of conditioning), you'll have to be creative to engage them in this favorite vernal repast. That's okay -- it could make it a whole lot more fun for you, too!

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