Archive for April, 2011

Raising Toddlers: Cleaning Together

Monday, April 4th, 2011

My toddler probably couldn’t care less whether the house is clean and tidy.  But he likes to clean — because Mommy does it.  Toddlers love to work one-on-one alongside their parents. It’s the highest form of play for them, as my mother-in-law learned through Montessori.

Justin and I have done a lot of cleaning together and have had fun doing it. My little boy will even go so far as to fight me for the mop or feather-duster on occasion! This is not to say that cleaning with my toddler has been a painless experience though. Frustration has been a large part of the process, but I’m slowly but surely learning how to involve my toddler(s) in everyday household tasks without making much more of a mess than there was before.

The following are some pointers (and important sub-points) from my own personal experience and observation:

1. Provide the toddler with cleaning items of his own. This means a child-sized broom, his own scrub brush, spray bottle (with water only!), etc. This will make cleaning more fun for him, and will prevent him from fighting you for those items.

(1a)  Never give a toddler a sponge unless you intend to have large soapy puddles all over the floor.

(1b)  Keep in mind that a broom handle can double as a bat to knock things off shelves and counters, and as a pole to poke baby with, so keep an eye on your toddler when he has it.

(1c)  I’ll reiterate, while your toddler will love having a spray bottle of his own, only put water in it…and not too much either!  The toddler has nothing to inhibit him from spraying everything, including himself and the baby’s face, and a lot of spraying concentrated in one spot will leave a puddle which could damage something if it goes unnoticed.

2. Have your toddler work with you on the same task; that is, never send him off to tackle another cleaning project while you take care of this one.  I can tell you right now, it won’t work.

(2a)  If Justin is representative of all toddlers, then toddlers do not have the attention span to stick to a task all by themselves.  Simply telling him to clean up his toys and books — without seeing the task through and calling him back to it continuously — will result in nothing done.

(2b)  Toddlers want to work with you.  So giving them a separate task is to miss the point of cleaning together.

3.  Be selective.  Some tasks are appropriate for toddler involvement, and others aren’t. You have to consider safety, the toddler’s ability, and whether toddler inclusion in the task at hand would be a positive experience overall or have you pulling your hair out.

(3a) Transferring clothes to the dryer, cleaning windows, sweeping the floor, scrubbing the floor (if it’s not water sensitive), and picking up toys, are tasks which can be more or less compatible with toddlers.  Mind you, in my experience, sweeping the floor with a toddler isn’t easy, as it requires defensive maneuvering to prevent your dust pile from getting scattered everywhere.

(3b) Cleaning dishes (unless they’re tough plastic) and scrubbing toilets are not good choices for toddler involvement. Even mopping/scrubbing can be hazardous, as toddlers have no comprehension whatsoever of ‘slippery when wet’, and will run across the floor as usual.  Justin hit the floor enough times that I finally gave up and would only do my mopping when he was contained in a playpen or highchair.

4.  Remind yourself that this is for a good cause and that it will (hopefully) pay off in the future.  You are teaching your little one important life skills. He is learning step by step how Mommy cleans, and developing the coordination to do it himself in the future.  He is forming a good work ethic, and, just maybe, by the time he is five or six or seven he will be able do it all by himself.

Think of it this way: You are multi-tasking. You are getting the cleaning done (albeit more slowly and with some complicating factors) and you are spending meaningful time with your toddler.  It’s a win-win!

5.  Relax and try to stay calm, cool, and collected and keep an up-beat attitude while doing this. I have had to catch myself a number of times when frustration was getting the better of me.  Yelling at your toddler won’t accomplish anything good.  So if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, just quit that task and leave it for later.  Think through whether your toddler can be involved in a different way, or whether this task is just not appropriate for him.  Or maybe you are just having a tough day and tomorrow it will go better.

If you are a perfectionist, try to lower your standards a bit, and accept that this is going to be a messy process and that the house will be a bit dirtier than you like for this stage of your life.  Your children are not going to stay little for long.  These are their most formative years, and once they are gone, you will never be able to get them back. So I would encourage you to let the cleanliness of the house slide a bit for now and invest yourself in relationships with your children.  You will never regret it.  😀