How to get your kids to clean up without a fight

teach kids to clean

The other day I lost it! Like completely lost my marbles. I had spent 3 days in a row washing, folding, and putting away endless amounts of laundry. I was so proud of myself for finally tackling my laundry mountain, and when I emerged from the laundry room, triumphant, I beheld a scene of disarray all around me. OH MY WORD!!! The house looked like a tornado had gone through it while I was busy in the laundry room. I was so upset. It’s like if I’m not yelling at everyone 100% of the time, any sense of order or cleanliness goes down the drain!

So after I had my pity party and threw the biggest mom-tantrum ever known to man, I got busy. I changed one thing to make me a better wife and mom. Then I decided I needed to teach my kids how to take care of a few things by themselves, without me hovering over them all the time threatening their lives if their rooms aren’t clean. And I came up with a few tips and tricks to get my kids to clean up without a fight. *** Please remember as you read these things, that I am not perfect at any of this. These are just tips that have helped my family, and maybe they can help yours too. Cause Heaven knows my house is almost always a pig-sty until 10 minutes before company comes over.*** 

1. Get in a routine

One of the best things for my kids is knowing what they should do and when to do it. I’ve found that if we have a good routine, it keeps me from constantly having to remind my kids (and yell at them) when they should be doing things.

My kids’ daily routine goes a little something like this: wake up, make your bed, get ready for school, go to school. When they get home from school, they know the first thing they do is put away their jacket and backpack, grab a snack and get working on their homework and piano. Then they pick up their rooms and do their daily job (they use these chore charts). Then they have the rest of the night to play or do whatever they want. They know that if it takes them an hour to get their homework and jobs done, they get less play time. If they get them done fast, they get more time to play. It’s a great incentive for them.

2. Do a little each day

I don’t know about you guys, but it’s much easier for me to keep up than to catch up (see laundry example above- haha). If I don’t clean for a few days, then it’s like torture to clean. But, if I’m constantly doing a little bit, it’s easier for me (I like to use this cleaning schedule). It’s the same way with our kids. When I ask my kids to clean their rooms, and they are a HUGE mess, I know I’m in for a fight. But, if they pick up each day and keep things cleaned up, it isn’t as big of a deal.

3. Make it fun

We use job charts a lot. But after a while, even those get tedious. So I like to change things up every once in a while. One of my kids’ favorite things is when I cut up a few strips of paper, write a combination of chores and fun things (like do 10 jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs 5 times, have a treat, etc.), and toss them in a bowl (seperate bowls for each kid). The kids love having fun things mixed in with their chores, and I get a lot less complaining.

Another idea is to make it a race. Sometimes I’ll have the kids race me, and sometimes I’ll have them race each other. I’ll make a list for each person with their jobs to do. Then I’ll say that the first person to get all done with their list gets to stay up 30 minutes past bedtime (or whatever reward you want). It motivates my family like nothing else. Just beware that sometimes this turns into a fight if the kids are racing each other, so to avoid that, I’ll let them race ME, and anyone who beats mom can have a late bedtime.

Another thing we like to do when we have a lot of tedious work ahead of us (like cleaning the toy room- ugh!) is set a timer. We’ll clean up for 10 minutes, then have 5 minutes of screen time, work for 10 minutes, then have 5 minutes of screen time. If the kids decide they don’t want to participate in cleaning up, they don’t get their screen time. And I don’t know about you, but screen time can motivate my kids to do just about anything.

4. Let the kids be in charge

I love when my kids are able to take care of things by themselves. Not only does it save me the headache of reminding them and yelling at them to get things done, but I love seeing them turn into responsible people. One way I’ve found to get my kids to clean up without a fight is by letting them be in charge of themselves. I’ll let them choose the jobs that go on their chore chart. Or I’ll leave a list of things that need to be done, and they each get to pick 3 things to do (they’re really quick to get the good jobs done before their siblings do). I’ve found whenever I let them think that cleaning up is THEIR idea, they are a lot happier, and so am I.

5. Work first, play second

When my kids understand that they don’t play until their work is done, things go a lot smoother at our house. It seems like I have to remind them daily, but they are starting to learn that we can’t go out and play until our rooms are clean, our homework is done, and our chores are finished. Since they understand this concept, it seems like we fight a lot less, and they are more likely to clean up before they even ask to play. This is how it is in real life too, so I feel like I’m teaching them a real life lesson. I’ll remind them that Daddy has to go to work to earn money before we have any money to do fun things. I’ve seen a lot less arguing and fighting once my kids realize this is just how things work in our home.

6. One touch rule

I’m trying to teach my kids the “one touch rule”. This means that as soon as you are done using something, you put it away. When you’re done eating, you clear your place and put the dishes straight into the dishwasher. If you change your clothes, you put the clothes you took off away. You don’t make a pile to get to later- you do it right then. If you open a package, you throw the package away. If you play with a toy, you put it away before you get a new toy out. The one touch rule has been great for my family, and especially for me, as a mom.

7. Praise and Reward

One of the best things I can do for my kids is praise and reward them. Just a simple thing like hearing their mom say, “good job” means the world to little kids. I try to be genuine in my compliments, and notice the things my kids are doing well. If they’re cleaning up without a fight, I’ll make sure to tell them how much that means to me.

Rewards are also something that works well in our house. Like I mentioned in #3, my kids love screen time. I have a great reward system for screen time that we use a lot. We’ve done marble jars before, where they earn marbles for doing good things and get their marbles taken away when they complain or do something naughty. Once their marble jars are full, they get to pick a prize from our family store (a basket with dollar store items), or they can choose to go get ice cream with a parent.

Another super simple reward that works with littler kids is something like stickers or m&ms. Make it a game where they can get an m&m for every 5 things they pick up, and they will hustle their buns off. Or give them a sticker when they complete their chore, and they’ll feel so accomplished.

8. Be present

If you take anything from all of these tips for getting my kids to clean up without a fight, I hope it is this: be present! All of these tips and tricks are great ideas for teaching your kids to clean up. But none of them will work unless you are right there with them, TEACHING them and HELPING them learn what to do. Sitting behind a computer screen yelling at my kids never works. NEVER. But when I get down with them, and show them how to hang up a shirt, or how to organize their toys, things get done much faster and easier. I’m not saying you should clean your child’s room for them, I hope you don’t. But I am saying that sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is be there with them to guide and direct and teach them what to do, so that eventually they’ll be able to do it all without your help at all.

teach kids to clean


  1. I agree with every point you made there! Some kids are hard to convince to help with the house work, but if you find a creative way to make it fun and keep their attention pointed at it, you will succeed. Of course, having some general ground rules from the beginning is pivotal. You have to start early, or otherwise you’re the only one to blame if you end up cleaning after your kids every day. We also have a strict routine for the work at home, and absolutely everyone pitches in. This way my wife is happy and me and the kids grow up to be responsible people. 🙂

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