Five Ways to Get Your Kids to Help with the Dishes

“Mom, I’d love to help clear the table and clean the dishes!” How often do you hear your kids ask that question? Yeah, me neither. When it comes to getting your kids to pitch in with dish duty, a little creativity can go a long way. These ideas can help your kids dip into the suds – and make your kitchen squeaky clean. Ok, well maybe not spotless, but it might just inspire them to get into the habit of doing the dishes more regularly.

Explain it

I’ve been cleaning dishes for what seems like an eternity. I understand I’ll have to soak the rice pan before I scrub it. And the saucepot? I know to look for the little dribbles on the edges. Your kids won’t. Before you tell them to “clean up the kitchen” they need to understand what that means and how to do it. Call in your kitchen helpers after dinner and let them know how you clean different items. This is a good time to talk about what items you’ll wash and they shouldn’t handle, like knives and blades. You might also do a “loading the dishwasher tutorial” so that the kids understand that you can’t cram all the utensils together. Ditto on the plates. Well, you can, but then they’re less likely to get clean.

Start small

Taking care of the entire kitchen clean up can be overwhelming for your child (heck, it may seem that way sometimes to you, too!). Instead of trying to tackle the whole job at once – or to have your child, or children – break it up into parts. For example, let him know that he can start by loading all the plates, cups and silverware into the dishwasher. Then divvy up the rest of the work into steps. You might even have your child draw up, either with words or pictures, how to clean up the kitchen. He could follow the same approach when doing his chores. By breaking down a big task into manageable pieces, it’ll go by easier – and hopefully make the job faster.

Have a soundtrack

Yes, this is the time to dig out your child’s favorite songs – Frozen tunes, anyone? Your child won’t mind washing dishes and wiping down the countertops as much if she can do it while belting out “Let It Go.” Using spoons and ladles for an impromptu microphone is also a must.

Get in gear

You wear different clothes for different occasions – clean up can be the same! When your child puts on his “cleaning apron,” he’ll know it’s time to wash. Use aprons you already have on hand or purchase one in his favorite color at the store – plain-colored, inexpensive aprons are available at many craft stores. Let him use permanent markers or fabric pens to decorate his apron. He’ll need cleaning gear, too, like scrub brushes, dishwashing liquid, and drying cloths. Make sure these items are easily accessible for him and that he knows how each is used. So, no liquid dish soap as a filler for the dishwasher!

Go away

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Sometimes it’s hard to let kids clean up their way. For example, I have to remind myself that it’s OK if water splashes outside the side of the sink. But if I nitpick at my kids the whole time they’re cleaning, no one’s happy by the end. Depending on your child’s age, let her clean up on her own. Express your thanks to her once she’s done – even if there’s still a few straggling mushrooms stuck to the side of the cooking pot on the drying rack. You’ll feel good that you didn’t have to clean everything up and she’ll feel proud of her work.

This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2016.

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