Teaching your Children How to Clean up after Themselves
If you go into any one of my sons’ bedroom on any random day, you will always find them fairly picked up. I cannot vouch for the smell of the teenage boy’s bedrooms who practice karate, though. Thank God there’s Febreze for that, but the neatness of the room is quite a wonder. There’s no set day or time dedicated to begging, cajoling, or nagging for them to clean up because in my house you must pick up after yourself consistently. That’s not to say that my youngest boy doesn’t think he owns the place. But even he knows that there’s a place for everything.
Children need formative discipline. We have been conditioned to think of discipline as something punitive or the negative response required from parents when their children veer off the path. But formative discipline is a loving act performed by a parent every minute of every day. Formation and correction go together. Russell Moore states in his latest book, The Stormed Tossed Family, that when talking about discipline, “You’re not just showing affection to your child in the moment but building rhythms and practices that over a long period of time come to show that child that he is loved and how to love others.” Cleaning up after yourself is an essential part of those rhythms and practices if we want to raise children with grit.
Teaching your children how to clean up after themselves requires your faithful example and daily correction until the practice becomes a habit. Not teaching them to do so, makes them entitled and lazy. No one starts out saying, “when my baby grows up, he is going to be an entitled, lazy brat.” But that is what we do when we fail to consistently remind them of their duties as fully vested members of the family.
All this reminding and correcting can be nerve-racking, trust me. It took me years to get one of my sons to put his clothes in the hamper after he showered, instead of leaving it on the bathroom floor. But every day without fail, I would gently remind him to pick up after himself. One day, it clicked. I haven’t had to remind him for at least three years now. The daily example and reminders are also how I teach them to wash their plates or put them in the dishwasher after they eat; and clean up the counter and the kitchen floor if they make a mess.
When teaching kids to clean up after themselves, it also helps to assign more responsibilities incrementally as they get older. With my first child, I figured out that when she was close to turning 9, she was able to reach into the washing machine to put her newly washed loads in the dryer. It was then that I decided that when she turned 9, she was going to do her laundry. When my other two boys were coming of age, they too knew that on their 9th birthday, they would start doing their own laundry. As we made early plans for their birthday celebrations, I would bring up the fact that laundry was officially a part of their new responsibilities. I would help them fold of course for the first year or so but let go as they got the hang of it.
Remember that even the most successful people have to put up with at least one or two chores they don’t at all enjoy. Nevertheless, the discipline they acquire doing those unwelcome tasks will carry over to other areas of their lives. To have children that have discipline and grit and who can resist complacency is what we all want as parents. We also want our children to feel like they are part of the household system. So, go on ahead, be bold! Teach your children how to pick up after themselves, they can handle it and frankly, you probably need the help.
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