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Ward: Teach your children the right way to clean

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Do you have a 5-year-old son who takes all the things out of his toy box to get his favorite model car and then walks out of the room with it, leaving the other toys on the floor?

Or do you have an 11-year-old daughter who leaves her dirty clothes all over her room, disregarding her laundry basket?

Or perhaps you have a 16-year-old son who plays ice hockey and leaves his equipment and gear in his room when he isn’t playing, which creates such an incredible stench that everyone in the family keeps his door closed?

If any of these situations sound similar to what is happening in your home, then I recommend you read “Teaching Children to Clean” by Schar Ward. Before becoming an author, Ward started her career as a professional housecleaner. In 1973 she began a small residential cleaning service that turned into the corporation Domestic Engineering.

Ward believes that her childhood instilled in her “many years ago, a passion for cleaning.” While she grew up on a farm in Minnesota, her parents produced their own food, and her mother made the family’s clothes and rugs.

“We were poor people, but as a child, I never realized it, because I always had food, clothes, a home, and parents who loved me,” Ward recounts.

That idea of responsibility and self-sufficiency is a pervasive theme throughout the book. Ward believes parents can teach young children to clean by immersing them in games and imaginative play. For older children, Ward thinks parents can motivate their kids to clean by praising their efforts and giving them an allowance or non-monetary privileges.

Cleaning is a life skill

Ward believes there are many self-help books on the market these days, because “parents aren’t teaching children the life skills they need to cope with everyday situations.” According to the only research study she mentions in her book, the sooner you teach your child to clean up after himself, the better.

In the study, when a 4-year-old was asked to do a task, he was more willing to cooperate than when a 10-year-old was asked to do a chore for the first time. The 10-year-old felt he was being asked to do something he didn’t want to do. If he had started doing chores at the age of four, he wouldn’t even be questioning why he was being asked.

Parents can yell at their kids to do chores or make excuses for their kids not to do them such as, “The children are too little” or “The children have homework.” One of the best ways for kids to learn how to clean is by watching their parents. “If you complain about housework and neglect your home, they will do the same,” Ward advises. “Children pay attention to what you do.”

Demonstrate vs. criticize

As far as results are concerned, Ward says that parents should never criticize their child’s efforts, especially in public. Instead, parent and child should have a discussion about how to do something correctly and then have the parent lead the child in redoing the chore.

When teaching skills to their children, parents should not make their tone “condescend­ing, and always try to explain the benefits of doing something a certain way.” Ward gives the example of clothes needing to be separated before washing “to prevent colors from bleeding onto other clothes.”

Parents need to show children how a chore is done so that children understand what is expected of them. By using the appropriate cleaning equipment and products, parents can demonstrate themselves how to clean an area thoroughly from beginning to end. Ward also recommends parents purchase pretty cleaning tools with bright colors that kids would enjoy using.

Ward encourages parents to let their children know the “personal benefits” of being neat and clean. They can say things to their kids like, “Your toys last longer when they are taken care of” or “You can find things easier.”

Suggesting that parents make cleaning up the house a team effort, Ward says the family should allow for a certain amount of time each week to do chores together. For example, on a Saturday morning, each family member receives a list of chores to do and the same allotted amount of time in which to do it.

Healthier home

Instead of buying cleaning products with harmful fumes that could poison kids or pets when ingested, Ward explains how to create natural cleaning products by using baking soda, white vinegar, liquid Castille soap, Murphy’s Oil Soap, club soda, Borax, and pure essential oils.

“There are over 17,000 petrochemicals available for home use and only 30 percent have been tested for their effects on human health and the environment,” warns Ward. Not only have people found that their allergy symptoms improve dramatically by switching to natural cleaners, but these all-natural solutions can be used on multiple surfaces, saving space and money.

The cleaning process could then become an at-home adventure for the whole family. Both parents and children could pretend they are scientists or magicians creating magical potions to make their home sparkling clean.

Another environmentally friendly tip Ward recommends is to use old cotton and flannel sheets and terry cloth towels and cut them into pieces for cleaning cloths. By “repurposing” these items, the family avoids using disposable cleaning wipes and paper towels, which will save them money. Ward also suggests using washable microfiber cloths.

Comprehensive checklist

Furthermore, the book devotes chapters to cleaning every room of the house. Since the book can be read by kids ages 10 and older, it is easy for parents to have their child read the book, which gives instructions in numeric order for cleaning each room.

At the end of each chapter is a chart that the parent can check off to ensure that every part of the room is clean and can assign a letter grade to their child’s work.

At the top of the chart is an area where the parent can let their child know how much they earned for their chore.

Included in the book are daily, weekly, and monthly chore charts for kids of different age groups. Ward also lets the parents know where they can find these chore charts online to download and print out for themselves.

Ward devotes chapters to teaching children to make a bed, do the laundry, clean up a spill on the carpet, put sports equipment away in a closet or basement, and wash dishes by hand to avoid the expense of using a dishwasher. She even instructs kids on how to clean up a pet’s area, like a fish tank, gerbil cage, or cat litter.

At the end of the book is a list of games that parents can play with their kids to help them complete their chores. For example, Ward explains one game where parents place treats or small toys in plastic bags in their child’s room. Then the parent tells his child that he has hidden four secret “treasures” in his room and that he must clean his room to find them. After the child shows their parents the plastic bags he has found, the parent inspects the room, and if it is clean, rewards their kid with treasures.

Ward, however, makes clear that cleaning isn’t really about games and treats. She mentions that the first thing a new Navy Seal is taught is how to make his bed correctly and first thing in the morning. After describing this customary habit to her readers, she adds, “Teaching yourself to do one thing right every day, leads to doing another thing right, and the list just keeps on growing.”

Allison Plitt lives in Queens with her daughter.

Posted 12:00 am, October 5, 2017
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