I can remember way back when, to the days before I had children. We would visit friends and their children, and I'd notice that toys, crafting supplies, and sometimes food were strewn all over their houses. "I'll never let that happen in my home!", I would say condescendingly.
Now, nine years later, I am eating my words. It's one of the unsolved mysteries of parenting: How can such a small child make such a huge mess? If your house is anything like mine, you barely have time to tidy up one mess before another is made. Although frustrating, a child's talent for untidiness is part of being a kid. It helps to encourage creativity and learning.
But by the same token, your child's penchant for chaos doesn't have to mean that you live in a disaster zone. Before you reach for the scattered cereal on the floor and the puzzle pieces under the sofa, encourage your little ones to help. After all, cleaning up can be just as much fun and just as educational as making the mess.
Four Hands Are Better Than Two
I'll be the first to admit that it's faster and easier for me to cleanup my children's messes by myself. However, if I'm always picking up after them, they'll never learn to do it themselves. My children understand the concept of clean and why it's important to keep everything tidy. But they don't know how to create and execute a plan to keep their rooms and the house a little neater.
We break up the cleaning into small tasks or often we'll split the room into imaginary quadrants and tackle one quadrant and task at a time. This strategy makes cleaning more manageable for children. Plus, when they see that I am willing and eager to pitch in, my children are more cooperative than expected. You'd be surprised how how eager young children are to please. Involving them also makes them feel as if they are contributing to the family unit.
Lower the Bar
You don't need to live like a slob, but your house doesn't need to be perfect either. Learning to relax your standards will go a long way towards accepting the not-so-perfect condition of your home. I have to admit that this was a difficult transition for me to make. I wanted everything to be spotless. I wanted everything in its place and a place for everything. I stressed when I wasn't able to maintain that level of perfection. I learned to aim for a more realistic goal of maintaining the chaos that comes with children.
I set up "no-play" zones so that toys were kept in their proper place. When we first started our family, my husband and I lived in a small beach bungalow. We didn't have enough bedrooms to dedicate a room as a playroom. We relegated toys to the family room and our daughters' bedrooms. In our current home, we have a playroom, and the "no-play" zone still applies. If toys are removed from the playroom, they must be returned promptly.
Make Cleanup Fun
Housework isn't a walk in the park for most of us. And so, it's likely that it isn't going to be for children either. I try to make sure that my children don't view cleanup as a tedious chore. To lighten the mood, I make a game of it by setting the timer on my smart phone. This is helpful in that it gives both a goal and sets a limit. Sometimes I play silly music, and we count the number of times we play the song before we finish the tidying. Next time, our goal is to play the song fewer times. I never bribe my children to clean up, but I do offer incentives such as an extra bedtime story.
Children will not excel (or even finish) every chore you give them. I know it's difficult, but try not to lecture your children for going only half the distance. If only some of the dirty clothes made their way to the hamper, don't nag or criticize. I was a nagger, and that constant nagging caused my children to become frustrated. Instead, I learned that the effort is more important than the technique. I now praise my daughters for their achievements in tidying up. Highlighting the achievements has helped to build my daughters' confidence, making them much more likely to take the initiative to cleanup on their own.