My home is generally littered with small land mines of lego blocks, little mountains of cut paper scraps and colored pencils, and crumbs scattered about on the floor — mostly due to the fact that the mess-makers still outnumber the cleaner-uppers. Prompted by many comments I’ve recently heard and read by moms exasperated with their unmotivated children and despite the appearance of my floor, I have several practical tips for training little children to help pick up and, more importantly, for motivating kids to clean joyfully with a desire to bring glory to God.
I still have several that resist cleaning up, but the 2 oldest children pick-up more than their fair share of toys and usually without complaining. In the past 2 years, I have really come to appreciate their help and efficiency as they put in to practice what they have been taught. We’re still working on attention to detail, but I am encouraged to see their progress as I look back.
While I have some practical tips to share, they are really useless if raising neat and organized children becomes more important than raising children that live for the glory of God, and if the state of our houses become more important than the state of their hearts. We are charged: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”(Col. 3:17) This not only applies to the kids’ attitudes toward cleaning, but also to the moms as they are directing their children.
Of course, most of us would never say that we value cleanliness over the hearts of our children but our actions often send a different message to our children. They see the frustration on our faces and hear the impatience in our voices as we urge them to clean up. We need to make sure our children see and know that our priority is the glory of God in all things.
That means that sometimes we need to get up from whatever we are reading and help them. Maybe it means that cleaning needs to be put on hold so that bad attitudes can be addressed. Maybe it it means that we need to retreat to our rooms and address sins of impatience and selfishness in our own hearts. Some days we may need to overlook messes (and hope our friends can too!) and some days we need to have cleaning “boot-camp” in order to train our children in diligence and thoroughness.
I want to raise children that help and serve around the house out of love for the Lord and a desire to honor him — not for the praise of man or the promise of reward or punishment. “Work heartily as to the Lord, and not for men.” (Col 3:23)
So why do we clean? Because God is a God of order. He ordered the universe in creation, he charged Adam to care for the garden and us to care for the earth (Gen. 1-3). God values hard work and considers laziness sin (various Proverbs). He is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Use cleaning as an opportunity to teach your children about the character of God!
On to the practical tips…
First, clean up with them. I think many parents expect their children to naturally know how to put things away. Remember learning about entropy in high school? Things move from order to disorder. It’s not that kids can’t be trained to keep order…it just doesn’t come naturally. Children need clear instruction and visual examples to learn, so get down on the floor and clean with them regularly. Not only is it a good example, but your children will be less like to become bitter about “doing all of the work” if everyone is working together.
Make cleaning part of your daily routine. We have 2 regular times in our daily routine when the children expect to tidy up the house. After breakfast, we clean off the kitchen table, get dressed, take care of laundry, and pick up stray toys, before starting our schoolwork for the day. Late afternoon, before daddy comes home we clean up the toys and generally tidy up the house. When my kids expect to clean up, they are less likely to complain when I call them away from their play time.
Help them to see the mess. Sometimes the mess begins to look normal to the children and the no longer “see” it. Have you ever sent your kids to their room to clean it, gone to inspect it and thought “Did they really think they were finished cleaning?” When they do their best and proudly proclaim it “clean,” I thank them for working hard and then point out the things they missed by piling them in the middle of the room. When they see the rest of the mess in plain sight, they can easily finish the job without excuse.
Have designated spaces for their toys. In our house, toys and books that don’t have a “home” seem to cause extra confusion. I’ll send someone to put away a toy and it ends up moving from the floor in one room to the floor in another room. They end up moving the mess from one place to another instead of cleaning. The children become frustrated when they don’t know where to put their things, and complaining becomes more frequent. I keep labeled, clear plastic bins for most of their toys.
Rotate toys and keep extras out of reach. I have found that there are fewer toy messes to clean up when only a couple of choices are available. We don’t have Lego blocks, K’nex, and wood blocks all out on the same day. A toddler can put away a pile of wood blocks, but would be overwhelmed by sorting and putting away 3 different types of blocks.
I keep extra toys on high shelves so that wandering toddlers cannot go dumping out baskets of toys when they are bored and I am not looking. Moving the toys to a higher shelf or a closed closet has significantly cut back the amount of picking up we need to do. I also carefully choose which toys are available when we have guests with small children. More than once we have had curious visitors dump out every available toy leaving the carpet barely visible. And even though most parents are happy to help put things away, reorganizing afterwards takes a bit of time.
Make it fun with music. Our afternoon clean up time is often accompanied by lively music. If I choose something with a fast tempo, everyone seems to work more quickly and have more fun. Sometimes they make a game out of finishing a task before a song ends, or they try to finish quickly so they can sing and dance.
Give them good reasons. Not only are there good biblical reasons to keep the house neat, there are also good practical reasons. We don’t leave cars in the middle of the floor because someone could slip and fall and we don’t leave small pieces on the floor where babies can find them and choke on them so cleaning helps to keep people safe. We want to be able to find what we need when we need it, so we clean to keep our homes efficient. We don’t leave crumbs on the floor or trash everywhere so that we do not attract bugs into the house. We clean because we want to bless daddy with a place of rest after he has worked hard all day to provide for us.
Ultimately, our goal is to not just to raise well-behaved, organized children. We want to teach them to glorify Jesus Christ in all that they do. Good behavior, in this case, cleaning, needs to be rooted in Biblical truth and motivated by a desire to bring glory to God.
“Encourage One Another Wednesday” Link-Up