Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

I recently found myself in a battle situation. Over cleaning, of all things. Not the most important thing, but here we were fighting about it nevertheless. I felt like I was always nagging the kids to clean up, with very little success. Their room was a complete disaster zone. I would eventually clean it up, only to have it looking much the same not long after, leading me to feeling angry and frustrated. Didn’t they appreciate what I’d done? Couldn’t they just put their stuff away? The struggle to get them to clean up the play room was much the same. I would spend time making the room nice for them, setting up things for them to use, and at the end of the day we would end up fighting over cleaning it up. I would be telling them a million times to do things, they would be moving slower than I thought possible and getting distracted by the smallest things. Basically doing anything they could to avoid cleaning. We had entered a world of power struggles, threatening, and bribing. Wow, how did that creep up on us? That is not what we’re about! Something had to be done.

As we do, my husband and I talked things over. We wondered whether we were expecting too much of them. We questioned where we had gone wrong! We didn’t really know what to do, and so we decided on an experiment. We decided instead of telling, there would be more doing. Yes, we decided to actually stop asking them to clean up. Ever. We decided to do it all ourselves.

We hoped that by leading by example we might effect more change than by trying to force them to do it. That was the idea anyway, but we didn’t have great expectations. We thought it was quite possible that they would think that this was a pretty sweet deal. That they might relax even more, thinking someone else would always clean up after them. But what else was there to do? We didn’t like how things were going, something had to change. An experiment seemed worth a shot, and we had nothing to lose. So we did it.

And it has been AMAZING.

Firstly, for me, when I stopped expecting them to help and trying to coerce them in to it I immediately felt less stressed. I had no expectations of them helping so there was nothing to be frustrated about. I expected that I would be cleaning everything for a while and they would be enjoying a relaxing time while watching me work, but we didn’t even have that.

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

Instead, you won’t believe what I have heard. From the first day, when I went down to the play room by myself to tidy up…

‘Mum, I can help you if you like?’

‘I think it would be nice if I helped you Mum’

‘It’s nice to help isn’t it?’

‘I like cleaning up with you, Mum!’

‘How about a helping hand?’

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

I know, I know, it’s hard to believe. But, this is exactly what has happened. When we took away the stress and the pressure, we saw how helpful they really were. They want to help. They like to. Instead of telling them what to do and ordering them around, we showed them. They see that looking after these areas is important because we show them with our actions. Cleaning is no longer a stressful thing, but something we can enjoy doing together.

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

“Children need models rather than critics.” -Joseph Joubert

I did worry that this might make things worse. That I was ‘letting them off the hook’. That they would never learn to clean up, to respect their things, to help! But this hasn’t been the case. Children want to do the right thing, they want to be helpful, they want to be involved. It’s just about approaching it in a different way. I wouldn’t demand another adult do things around my house according to my schedule. I would feel rude. I would hope that they would just join in and offer their help. And so I took the same approach with my children, and they did.

Why I stopped asking my kids to clean up | Happiness is here

They amaze me and teach me something new every day.


October 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Great post! Cleaning up after my toddler every day drives me crazy, but even at her age I’ve found she will mimic my actions, putting toys back in the baskets, wiping down surfaces with paper towel etc. It gives my hope that she’ll help like your girls when she gets older!

    October 22, 2014 at 9:32 am

    The key here is that now they are helping get a job done, instead of being ordered to do it on their own. Yes, you will have moments of putting things away only to have a child immediately pull them out again. But as they get older they will come to understand that putting things back when they are done with them is part of the entire process. Kind of like folding or hanging up the clothes and putting them away is the final part of the clothes washing process whenever you do a load of laundry (which I have yet to be totally consistent about).

October 10, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I love how you are so realistic and open. Thank you.

October 10, 2014 at 9:16 pm

What great encouragement and a wonderful way to set an example for your children.

October 10, 2014 at 9:44 pm

I’m tempted to do this myself because of the daily struggle of asking my kids to put their things away. Then I think about people like my little sister who grew up with my mom always cleaning up after her, and at 23 is still an epic slob. My mom still cleans up after her! I’m ready to just take a break from the struggle though. My biggest problem is the older kids leaving things thrown all over the floor where the baby can eat them. Pick up your crayons! Gaaaah!

    October 11, 2014 at 8:43 am

    I did have that fear, LOL. But they are actually cleaning up so fingers crossed!

      May 31, 2015 at 9:40 am

      I was raised much like this woman’s sister – my mom would rather do the work than fight with me, so I never did any. But mine was not a happy family in other ways, so I think the key is not just how you go about cleaning up but how your family interacts all around.

    December 19, 2019 at 1:28 am

    I can empathize with how things worked out with your sister and mom. Whe I was growing up, the theory was that the mom would clean up but when when you were an adult and left home, you’d be on your own. I met a few people when I was at university whose parents cleaned up after them, and they couldn’t cope on their own and they were among strangers who didn’t care that they were struggling. They became a cautionary tale, which was very sad for them suffering because childhood habits.

October 10, 2014 at 11:04 pm

I like this idea, yet I’m not wholly convinced. I think it’s really important that children take their share of the responsibility of living in a house, so I have tried to encourage routines that mean they do their share. Before breakfast I fill the sink with soapy water and put the steps in front of it so that they can wash their dishes as they finish. Do they do it? Not very often! I’ve left a damp cloth next to the sink in the bathroom so that they can wipe around the sink when they’ve finished, and a mop for cleaning up accidents around the toilets. Do they use them? Hmmm, yes, sometimes. I’ve created nice spaces in their bedrooms for all their belongings. Do they tidy? Not without a reminder. Do they run around and play while I do all the laundry, dust, clean windows, vacuum etc? Yes. Do they offer to help? Very rarely. I wonder if maybe I should make it look more fun and appealing. I have tried. But when you feel as though you’re the only one in the house taking responsibility for ALL the cleaning up, and are miffed about it, you don’t really feel that it IS fun. Following your post though, I will try and do it with a little more joy, and hope that they take the initiative and come and join me. It would certainly make it more fun!

    October 11, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I think it’s definitely important for everyone to play their part. This way they are doing so much more than they were before. Hopefully it continues!

    October 12, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I agree! I’ve done the same and it rarely works. I think it depends on the age of the kids and their temperament. One thing that helps is to use music to clue kids in to the transition from play to cleaning up — whether singing your own clean-up song or just blasting fun music so it’s more of a game. This works better for picking up toys and helping to clean around the house and less for basics, like cleaning up after dinner. With our 2 year old, making anything a game works — he even loves to put wet clothes in the dryer with me!
    Most recently with our 8 year old, one thing that has seemed to help is a book: ‘The Day Mommy Quit’ by Kally Mayer. As an Amazon member I got this for free and placed it on the tablet. It’s silly but really gets the point across. (No, I’m not trying to plug anything; it really helped!)
    Lastly, we have a chore chart for our 8 year old and use Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Univ for kids system of commissions. Our daughter has earned enough to buy toys and things she wants to do since about age 4. Most recently, she save enough to pay for the tablet she desperately wanted. (Note that she doesn’t earn all that much so we pay half since things are so expensive). When I added that Mommy Quits book to the tablet, it was a good reminder about how we all need to help around the house. She was over the moon to earn the tablet. Prior to that what was motivating her most was when she DIDN’T have enough to buy things. Then, she asks to do extra things, like weeding!
    Best wishes on this tricky topic!

    April 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Omg i feel the same way..also following ..i hope i learn from this lady…being stressed out is painful,thank u

October 11, 2014 at 1:15 am

I love this! I have those struggles everyday–my house looks like a tornado hit a toys ‘R’Us! Babies, barbies, toy dishes, stuffed animals, and doll clothes strewn across my living room. I will try your method! Thank you!

October 11, 2014 at 4:14 am

We are the same person, I swear!!!! We parent the same way… It freaks me out!!!!! Haha. Love your blog and photos…

October 11, 2014 at 4:25 am

I’m glad it worked for you because having tried this in our home, it did not work at all. One way we have found is to make our daughter think about her refusal. She’s at an age now that when we ask her to do something, she will say “I don’t feel like it” or “No, I feel like doing this”. We ask a second time, explaining gently that this would help out mom and dad a lot, that it would make our home, as a family, more enjoyable. We also insist on the fact that respect is very important. And helping to keep our home clean is showing respect for the other people that live here cause not everyone is happy in such a mess. 75% of the time, by now, we’ve gotten help. But if that dreaded 25% of the time happens, then we turn it on her. If mom is knitting and she asks if I can help her take a toy down from the shelf, I say “no, mom feels like knitting now.”… That prompts an immediate conversation. We don’t yell, we just show what it feels like. We never need to ask her how it feels, she comes to us an says that next time, she’ll be better about helping. And then she’s good until the next “25%”. It may not be ideal for everyone, and it may not be up there with still-parenting methods. And I know some might find it passive-aggressive, but we’ve stopped fighting. There are many ways to learn by example and I think this fits the bill : Let her be her own teacher.

Jess - Memoirs of a Childhood
October 11, 2014 at 9:16 am

Yes! This seems so backwards but has worked similar here πŸ™‚

October 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Wow, that is amazing!!

October 12, 2014 at 1:40 am

Great Post! Thank you. I am learning I need to pick my battles, I don’t like the arguing that cleaning can bring on. I hope I have as good as success as you have.

October 12, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I have found if we set a time to clean as a group, that has worked for us. Everyone pitches in because everyone is doing it at the same time and nothing else is a choice. I don’t love to clean so teaching kiddos motivates me to keep things neat and clean more often. We also found that telling them they are responsible for packing their own bags and gathering necessary materials for activities they enjoy (martial arts, swim team, etc…) goes pretty well because they have to take responsibility with their coach/instructor if they are late. It’s not perfect and they aren’t perfect at doing their chores all the time, but neither am I so I can’t get too upset.

October 12, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Wow – what a great experiment πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing and for the reminder to lead by example. It’s wonderful to see your kids wanting to help out. xo P

October 12, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Brilliant! It’s much the same here to be honest. I get stressed constantly asking them so do it myself! They help at times but it’s a work in progress! The 3yr old is better at tidying when asked than the 6yr old! Good on you guys!

October 12, 2014 at 5:54 pm


Thanks for the insight.

Please can you tell me where you purchased your lovely childrens wooden table and chair as shown in the picture?


Lisa @bitesforbabies
October 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Good for you!! For a Type-A person like me this could be one of the hardest things for me to do…but I think one day I will try it! It makes sense that the more we “nag”the less likely our kids will do something to please us. I love the reaction your kids had!!

October 12, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Yes, I am all to familiar with that battle of getting my little one to clean her room. I will try your experiment and see if it works for us. She is only four, but that is her chore, to keep her room tidy by picking up her toys before going to bed. I’ll be keeping my fingers cross. Tomorrow I stop asking her to clean and do it myself.

October 13, 2014 at 1:46 am

I may experiment with this one although my kids are older! It does seem that they are happy to either go outside and play or slob in front of TV whilst I get on with it..

October 13, 2014 at 8:10 am

As the mother of 10 and 5 year old boys, I’ve found if I don’t ask them to do it, they still won’t offer help.The five year old even went as far as to say I don’t have to clean that up because mom will. While I think the idea is good for some parents, it just doesn’t work with my family πŸ™

    October 17, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Not for everyone, just like with everything I guess πŸ™‚

    December 30, 2015 at 11:51 am

    It’s the same in my house. If I do everything, they just keep slacking off, having the time of their lives and expecting me to do everything. I’m at my wits end to be honest, but they’re still young (they’ll be 3, 5 and 7 in february). The oldest does help out when I ask her to most of the time though but to have any of them help me out of empathy would be a big surprise.

    April 23, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    As a mum with 3 boys (7, 9, 12) I’ve long told them that their rooms are their own responsibility. If things are a mess and they can’t find something important, then too bad…
    To keep things vaguely clean, there’s ABSOLUTELY NO FOOD in their room, so things that are strewn across the floor are mainly clothes (clean), books and toys. As they slowly outgrow toys, the toy mess seems to decrease…
    My 12yo goes through spurts of crazy mess then fanatic cleaning up….a bit like me, so I guess I can’t complain =P
    They also get paid to do extra chores, but these payments are only made when they’ve completed their own responsibilities. At 50c per chore, a lot of packing away & cleaning gets done πŸ™‚

October 13, 2014 at 9:17 am

That’s exactly what I do most of the time. My toddler just copies as they do πŸ™‚ I simply say while cleaning “we always put things away” and clean up myself without asking or making her do it. And it always works well for her – she just instinctively cleans up. Great post! Pinned!

October 13, 2014 at 10:52 am

Me too!! And yes the change in stress levels is huge. :). I thought carefully about my values and my limits. I decided tidying was a request not a limit. I ask my kids to help, but it is a genuine request and I’m fine if they decline.

But…like you I have found the amount of contribution they make has increased and they get that genuine feeling of satisfaction.

Thanks for sharing this. I love that you chose connection with your children.

October 13, 2014 at 4:25 pm

You are a brave woman to even attempt this experiment but I’m so glad that it worked. You make some really great points in this post. Very interesting.

October 13, 2014 at 7:50 pm

I’m glad I read this because this is exactly what I started doing last week.

“That is not what we’re about!” – ditto.

So I needed to try a different tactic. I just knew the nagging wasn’t working, nor pleasant (for anyone – me included!).

Here’s to increased co-operation from the Kids!

Danya Banya
October 13, 2014 at 11:00 pm

I find that when our house is clean, my kids are more prepared to help tidy up and pack away, but if our house is messier, then they are easily overwhelmed.

October 14, 2014 at 4:50 am

Very cool. I love parenting experiments.

October 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

I have semi-tried this approach, especially when the kids want something from me. I’ll say something like “oh I would love to help you build that/read that/etc…..as soon as all these clothes are put away I can help you!” Unfortunately, that has not resulted in offers to help get the work done!

October 14, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I did something similar with my two children. They are 9 and 13 now. About a year ago things had gotten to a point where there became constant resistant to their daily contributions (chores) around the home. As I am parenting independently, this became more exhausting than doing the work myself. I think at one point I even resorted to saying something along the lines of not signing up to be the chore police. So we sat down and had a family meeting. I told them they no longer needed to contribute to our family life by doing chores. I said that as much as it feels better to have all of the family contributing, the struggles were exhausting and were hurting our relationships, which were more important to me than having help. I said I would do it all myself. After their initial shock wore off, they both said they would not allow this. They would not feel good seeing me do all the work. As of this posting, I haven’t experienced struggle around this since. We also now make most meals together. My oldest son recently told me he would like to make a whole meal by himself for us. My feeling is, that when we shift our own energy around situations and speak honestly we then make spaciousness for them to do the same. When we release the struggle and relax our energy and resistance, they then can meet us there and expand in their expression of capability. Thank you for sharing.

October 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

This is a great idea. We do a helping thing too but it’s more like me asking them to help me tidy their mess – haha. Whatever works, right?

October 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Hi, i found it interesting reading your Blog. I believe you fell by accident into a Biblical truth that’s been in the Bible for thousands of years.

This truth is found in: Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them (Adam and Eve), and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

God put seed within the first apple tree so it would reproduce after it’s own kind. Hence, apple trees reproduce apple trees, not orange trees!

God put seed in mankind to reproduce after themselves. This applies not just in giving birth to children but in children mimicking their parents.

Children will follow the example of their parents because it is genetically built into them by God.

The parents reproduce after their own kind!


October 15, 2014 at 4:54 am

See…I tried a different approach. If I tell them to clean and they don’t…they are disobeying. That’s defiance and needs to be dealt with. I tell them once and if they don’t, they go to the corner and we try again. They only ever go once or twice.
ALSO however, I need to recognize that at two and three…their attention spans are tiny, so I need to supervise clean-up and provide regular encouragement to keep them going and if a toy distracts them, I just gently remind them that they can play with it once all of the other toys are up.
Tried this approach several months ago (when my youngest was just 18 months) and it has worked wonderfully! The kids always clean up their own room and Mommy can focus on cleaning the bigger items!

October 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Yes young children are wired to learn by imitation. If we consistently do our work with joy they will learn to as well. Engaging the child during clean up is key “you many put these blocks in the bin…” often the task can be too overwhelming for a young child and they do not know where to begin or what to do. Limiting the number of toys and books that they have access to in a play area is helpful as well.

October 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Oh I just love this little experiment, don’t kids just always amaze us adults? They really do want to help they just need to be allowed to make the decision for how they can best do it sometimes I think. my twins have watched me packing up so often after the family day care kids that they often just do it themselves now and do ‘set ups’ for the kids the next day. The power of modelling lol Glad it has worked so well for you!

October 15, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Thank you. NO: THANK YOU!!! I think this post might save my sanity. I hate power struggles and had been trying to avoid them for the longest time but with cleaning it’s been a totally different story: battle field!

October 15, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Great reading about this πŸ™‚ I tend to find that when I am hurrying and telling the kids to clean it doesn’t really happen. While if I just start and sing as I go they join in with both song and cleaning. We have some fun cleaning songs that they like and we have fun with. It is really about my mood and how I set the mood for the home in cleaning up, and imitation, if I put myself into the cleaning they will come to it too.

October 16, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I like what one poster said about the little ones always mimicking your actions. Even if you work with joy and happiness, they will mimic that too I think!God bless, everyone

October 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm

I loved reading this. I’m okay with a little mess by hubby is not. He gets so frustrated. I hate that i get frustrated the mess too now ( and I never used to). I think I’ll try your method, it can;t hurt, it can;t be worse than getting cranky at my kids all the time. Thanks for giving us another option!

October 17, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Nice one! Yes, something has to change here and I’m going to give your experiment a try as well. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚