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How to teach your kids to do the laundry

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...

Laundry independence

You've heard it before: “Mom, I need my soccer socks clean today!” And it’s not laundry day. Or after a day of household chores, only the laundry is left and it seems like everyone else is relaxing while you are running up and down the basement stairs. Or you’re running late from work and you call to ask you kid to throw a load of laundry in the washer in advance of weekend guests and he claims not to know how to do it. Guess what? Kids can do laundry, too. So let them! And teach them.

mom-and-daughter-doing-laundry

Kids can -- and should -- learn to help with the household laundry at a young age. College students may be notorious for bringing home loads and loads of laundry on weekend visits home, but you want it to be because it costs less to do it in mom's washer -- not because they don't know how. And how will then learn? You have to teach them. You may be in the habit of getting all the laundry done on Tuesday mornings while your child is at school (so it happens almost like magic to them!), but that's no favor to your child.

Tasks by age

Even young kids can help with laundry tasks. Preschool age kids are learning about colors anyway, so why not apply a practical lesson? Whites in one pile and colors in another. And when you put the loads into the washer, pouring out detergent probably holds more appeal to the age three to five set than the 30 to 50 year-old set.

As kids get older, they can add the actual doing of the laundry to their chores. Step them through the component tasks several times, then let them loose. They can start by being responsible for their own laundry and maybe add in other household laundry later.

Since it's a task that cannot be completed in one burst of energy, but is spread out over a day, teaching your child to do the laundry necessarily teaches a little patience as well. And folding? Well, some kids are meticulous, and other less so. Let go of perfection here... or keep the kids on the task of matching socks.

Get everyone to do a part

Don't make the laundry kid have to do the basic stuff that each person who generates laundry should be doing on his or her own -- emptying pockets, buttoning pants, turning things right-side out, etc. You can make a checklist or even print a sign with the laundry "rules" everyone needs to follow to keep things simple.

Cheat sheets

After the initial teaching of laundry tasks, especially for older kids, keeping a cheat sheet handy by the washer and dryer is helpful. Your child doesn't want to ask you again and again, "What's the washer setting for whites? I forget!" -- and you don't want to nag. If there is a special way certain items need to be treated, include that detail. And if there's something special of yours you want to be sure isn't ruined? Maybe hold that back and do it yourself.

Let them ruin something

During the course of teaching your child about laundry, there is a very good chance that he or she will get lazy and not do something according to instruction. Your child will think, "Sheesh, it can't possibly matter that white shirts and my new red jeans are in separate loads! I'll just do them all together!" Ahem. You know what's going to happen next.

Thankfully, this is the type of lesson it usually only takes one to learn. Hopefully none of your favorite items will be affected by the resulting pink mess, but the lesson most definitely will be learned.

Teaching kids to do the laundry -- or simply helping with the laundry at a young age -- is part of teaching your child what it means to keep a family and a household going. Keep them involved and keep giving them more responsibility. As a bonus, you'll have a great retort then next time you hear a shout about needing clean soccer socks again: "Wash them yourself!"

More on doing laundry

Top 10 laundry blunders
Real moms share their tips for laundry
Teaching kids to do laundry


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