Are you feeling completely overwhelmed by the thought of cleaning?
The good news is that it really does get easier to keep your house clean as children get older. In fact, by the time they reach preschool age, chores for 4 year olds are actually helpful around the house!
When your kids are young it can be a constant struggle. As you clean up toys in one room, they’re hiding in the closet pulling all of their clothes off hangers. Or just when you finally get the kitchen clean they somehow manage to spill yogurt all over the stove.
Kids are automatically pros at making messes.
With a little help, you can make your children great at cleaning up those messes too.
Why Teach Preschoolers to Do Chores
For the record, I think you should introduce cleaning habits at an early age (even babies!). But let’s be honest, for young children it’s more about playing. They can’t actually work independently or truly clean by themselves.
But at age 4? That’s the magical cleaning age.
Around age 4 is when they can start doing real chores and take some of the cleaning load off you. That is; if you teach them properly.
I’m a huge fan of having children do chores around the house. For starters, it makes it easier to keep your house clean. Not only because you have another set of hands helping but also because neat children tend to make fewer messes in the first place.
Completing tasks gives everyone, including kids, a sense of satisfaction and worth. You are teaching them skills they can continue to build and use for their entire lives.
Age-Appropriate Chores for 4 Year Olds
4 years old is a GREAT age for chores. It’s the age where they stop practicing and playing and really start helping out with household responsibilities.
Gone are the days where they’re playing in the sink pretending to do the dishes. With some teaching, a 4 year old can be expected to rinse off dishes and put them in the dishwasher – skills that are actually helpful!
So it’s time to get to the good stuff already, here’s a comprehensive list of age-appropriate chores for 4 year olds:
- Set the table before dinner
- Clear place setting after eating (including rinsing dish and loading into the dishwasher)
- Make bed
- Pick up toys
- Wipe down counters
- Clean up room
- Empty the dishwasher
- Laundry (loading, transfer, matching)
- Clean baseboards
- Picking up sticks outside
- Washing car
- Pack bag for school
How to Get Kids Cleaning
Great! Now we’re all on the same page about the expected chores for 4 year olds. There’s just one problem… how do we get them to actuallydo the chores? What’s the first step?
Before a parent starts to even think about teaching their children to clean, they need to take a good look at themselves and their cleaning habits.
Are you making your bed daily? Do you complain about chores?
Parents need to make sure they are modeling good cleaning behaviors – ie. putting things away in a timely manner, keeping work areas neat, and having a positive attitude surrounding the tidying process.
Be sure to set a good example with your words as well as your actions. Be in a good mood when you’re cleaning and praise yourself (aloud) when you’ve completed a difficult task.
It’s also important to casually mention (rather than through lecture) reasons why cleaning is important. Personally I like to discuss the ease of finding things I need, the reduced chance items will get lost/damaged, and the relationship between a clean house and staying healthy.
Introducing Chores for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Getting children to start a new cleaning routine doesn’t happen overnight and should be introduced one task at a time. Don’t expect everything in one day.
The first day a new chore is introduced your child will need a lot of assistance, instruction, and patience from you. You’ll have to show them the new behavior, and what your expectations are.
Over the next few days, allow them to perform the task with increasing levels of independence with lots of praise for a job well done. Slowly transition to them to completing the chore by themselves.
It’s important to remember that children don’t clean efficiently. You’ll have to allow for extra time, particularly in the beginning. For example, it may take you 30 seconds to make your bed, but it will take your child 4-5 minutes at a minimum.
It’s a new responsibility and they’ll often view it as fun… for the first few days. The hard part is to get them to keep up with the chore. That is by far the biggest pitfall we struggle to overcome, getting our children to continue to clean up what we have shown them.
Secret Methods to Make Kids Put Toys Away
Let’s face it, modeling good cleaning behavior and slowly introducing cleaning tasks isn’t enough. You have to keep kids excited about cleaning. This is where my secret methods come in to play.
Here are some of my most successful techniques to make cleaning and chores for kids manageable and fun:
- Break It Down – Don’t just tell your kids to “clean up”. Be specific about the task at hand. If you want them to put toys away, specify to first clean up the blocks, then the cars, and finally the stuffed animals. Make sure the directions are simple to understand and manageable for the age of the child.
- Utilize a Timer – We use our Google home to give a deadline for specific tasks. Kids will put things off as long as possible, unless they know they’re on the clock. This works especially well as a warning if kids aren’t motivated to complete the task the first time you ask.
- Natural Consequences – When our children can’t find a missing puzzle piece or get hurt tripping over a toy, we gently remind them of the importance of keeping a tidy play space. This reinforces why we clean in a way they can understand.
- Incentivize – While “bribing” children to clean isn’t encouraged, I’m personally a big fan of occasionally providing an incentive. We don’t always have rewards for putting away toys, but sometimes it’s fun to provide a goal for accomplishing a task. For example, “if we can put these blocks away in 2 minutes we get popcorn with our movie tonight!”.
- Put the Toys “to Sleep” at Night – Putting the toys to sleep in their homes/beds is a fun way to make sure the “toys are rested” for the next day of playing. This goes hand in hand with my next point which is…
- Toys That Aren’t Put Away Go to Time Out – If toys aren’t put away the night before, they didn’t get a chance to properly rest. Therefore those toys have to have a nap (or time-out) for either a few hours or all day.
- Sing the Task at Hand – The more I remind my kids to pick something up, the more they seem to ignore me. So I make them sing it with me over and over until they complete the chore. The tune is different every time, I just make up a jingle off the top of my head – “put the blocks on the shelf, on the shelf, on the shelf…”.
- Make it a Game – Whoever said that cleaning has be boring? There are so many ways to make picking up toys a game! Here are a few of my favorites:
- I pretend to forget where everything goes and try to put things away “wrong” and let the kids correct me.
- Similar to “I spy”, I’ll tell my kids to find all the blue/soft/food/etc toys and put them away.
- Bring out their competitive side by challenging them to see who can pick up the blocks the fastest, or who can pick up the most toys in 2 minutes.
- If you have a big bucket for the toys, let them try to throw it in to make a basket.
- We play “guess the toy under the blanket” and the winner puts the toy away. It’s a simple game where I sit there with big blanket and the kids reach under with their hands to guess what it is based on feel alone.
Final Strategies for Continued Cleaning Success
As we’ve discussed, getting kids to start new cleaning responsibilities and tidying isn’t so hard in the beginning. Turning these behaviors into a routine, however, is a different story.
I find that it’s all about a finding that perfect combination of consistency and inconsistency. Part of it definitely should become a regular routine but you’ve got to mix it up too (with all those methods I gave you above!).
Many moms swear by the one-item-out-at-a-time rule. Personally, I can’t do it. Nope. I feel it stifles creativity (and also means I have to constantly watch them).
I don’t see anything wrong with the action figures co-mingling with firemen – let them all play together! I do find it beneficial to pop in every once in a while to monitor the toy situation. If the play area starts to look completely out of control, instruct them to put away something they obviously aren’t playing with at the moment.
Sometimes it’s too late, the entire room is a disaster zone but it’s bedtime and therefore time to get those kids cleaning. In those cases, I find it extremely helpful to reduce the amount they have to clean up, which means that I pre-clean a little for 10 minutes or so before it’s time to put toys away. This makes it look less visually overwhelming and allows them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Related: Quick Cleaning Hacks for Parents
Don’t forget to make your organization and storage system child-friendly. Personally, I have shelves behind cabinet doors that close. Preschoolers aren’t exactly the neatest about putting things away on shelves, but this way I can close the doors and it looks perfect. We also have a large “catch-all” bucket for anything that doesn’t fit on the shelves.
All of that being said, it’s also important to manage your expectations and be realistic. You’ve got to read the room and the situation at hand.
My children do at least one chore every day, but if I’m being honest they don’t always put toys away. Most days they do, but not every single day.
Sometimes the kids are exhausted from preschool, dinner goes long, and they’re obviously cranky. Those are not the days I force them to do every single chore.
Again, it’s about finding that perfect blend of routine and inconsistency. That’s how to get your 4 year old to help you clean (and keep your house clean!)
This post was written by Jo, one half of the team behind The Moms at Odds. She stands behind their mission that there are multiple right ways to parent and those differences should be celebrated, not shamed. Jo is a full-time mom (two young kids 19 months apart!), small business owner, and wife. In her limited spare time, you’ll either find her blogging or enjoying a glass of wine.