Summer brings out the child in all of us, with time to play and escape the grind. For youngsters, summer means endless fun and exploration, but potentially endless mess making. Rather than dread the extra cleaning from having children underfoot, parents can use the summer to teach five basic cleaning rules that will help instill lifelong habits, and help parents weather summer vacation.

1. Teach children to pick up their own belongings. Help show children that things have homes, just like people do. Give young children bins to easily gather toys when they are done. Older ones can help organize their clothes. Tape pictures of each type of clothes (or toy) on the front of drawers (or bins) to help children identify what goes where. Be flexible and let children help decide where things should go—there are no “rights” and “wrongs,” only consistency. Tweens and teens can start by making lists of how they would like to organize their belongs. Let them show you their lists and honor their thought processes. They can even help sort through things they no longer need—the well-known “keep,” “toss,” or “donate” system of bins helps them easily categorize clothes and toys. Set a designated time to share in clean-up with your child.

Life lessons: Responsibility, order, decision making.

Remember: Keep it fun and light! Some mess is okay, too.

Teach children to pick up their own belongings

2. Allow children to help load the dishwasher or help wash dishes. All children can help by placing their used dishes in the sink. Little children love to play in bubbles; use this teachable time to let them help “wash” dishes. Older children can be challenged to help organize dishes in the dishwasher (resist the urge to re-order anything they have loaded!).

Life lessons: Responsibility, spatial organization if loading the dishwasher, feeling valued.

Remember: Young children will make messes and take a long time to do things. Allow them time to explore and resist the urge to step in and do it for them.

3. Remind children to wipe around the bathroom sink after they wash their hands or brush their teeth. Note how this requires them to wash their hands or brush their teeth in the first place! By making clean-up a game and not focusing on the chore, children will be more likely to brush or wash. Keep an extra towel or washcloth by the sink on a hook for children to use, and show them how to hang it up when they are finished. Praise their efforts!

Life lessons: Awareness of surroundings, responsibility, routine, self-care.

Remember: Keep it fun, not punishment!

Mount coat hooks near the door to create a handy shoe rack

4. Show children how to wipe or remove their shoes when they enter the home. Depending upon the custom at your home, you can have a shoe rack by the door or a special place for each child’s shoes. Help them see that wearing shoes inside can mean extra dirt, and show them how to vacuum or mop up any dirt or sand that has come inside because of shoes. If you are at your beach house, teach them to rinse their feet in a designated place before entering the house. You can use this as a springboard for discussions about customs of different cultures.

Life lesson: Self-awareness, responsibility, contribution to family.

Remember: Laced shoes may be difficult for children to take off and put on; be patient as they learn this skill, or allow them to use shoes with other types of closures.

5. Show children how to make their own bed. Depending upon the size and placement of the child’s bed, this can be a simple or not-so-simple task. Help show the child how nice it is to have a fully made bed, but find ways to simplify the task—reduce the number of blankets or covers for small children to one sole comforter; or if a bed is against the wall, don’t worry about the wall side. For bunk beds, be extremely lenient with your child. Find a pretty pillow or stuffed animal that the child can place on top of the made bed for the child to signal the task is done. As an added incentive for a job well done, surprise your child with a turned down bed and a piece of chocolate on the pillow.

Life lesson: Finding calm, order, sense of completion.

Remember: Perfection can kill desire—don’t require children to meet your standards; praise their efforts. Don’t make it about an obsession or compulsion but rather helping a child feel peaceful and ordered.

While we think these are basic skills and life lessons for any child to learn, we also understand that sometimes it is great to let someone else do these tasks. A Votre Service! is at the ready as the premiere Hamptons House Cleaning Service and House Watching company—call us when you want a break.


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