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"They demand I hand them a towel": How Sean 'tricked' his twins into helping him clean.

Attempting to clean your home when you have toddlers (or any young children for that matter) is a lot like brushing your teeth while eating a packet of Tim Tams. You’ll never get ahead of the damage being done.

But that didn’t stop me, a self-described neat freak, from “tricking” my children into helping me clean the house. In fact, it worked so damn well that it seems like they actually like it now.

If you have any desire to achieve similar success in your home, making the dream of drama-free cleaning an actual reality, then give these simple hacks a try:

Sean Szeps tells Holly Wainwright how he tricked his twins into loving cleaning

1. Show don’t tell.

When my twins started crawling, I began purposefully cleaning in front of them. I never asked them to join in or even explained to them what I was doing, I simply cleaned.

They were, like most impressionable children, very intrigued. And as they got a bit older, I capitalised on that interest by placing towels in front of them so that they could join in.

I never told them what to do or forced them to participate, I simply set a good example. Almost immediately, my daughter began copying me as I scrubbed the floor or picked up their toys. And my son, feeling left out, joined in a few days later.

Now when I start cleaning they demand that I hand them a towel so they can help too.

2. Play a song (or two).

When I was a kid, my mum often sang “The Clean Up Song” from Barney & Friends while she cleaned around the house. When I became a parent, I decided to pass down this musical tradition. Every time I clean, I either sing or play the song on my phone.

Music is known to help strengthen the connection in the brain to help children learn and remember things, so I wasn’t surprised when my kids started picking things up the moment they heard the music kick in.

And if your kids love the addition of music to their cleanup routine, create a Clean Up Time playlist as I did. Your kids will let you know which songs resonate with them the most, so you’ll be able to use those songs to make the task much more enjoyable for them (and for you).

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Every parent will be familiar with this scene. Image: Supplied.
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3. Every toy has a home.

In my house, every toy is grouped together with other like-minded things. I have baskets in their bedroom for animals, food, transportation, music and babies. And while this was originally just for my own sanity, it has quickly become a wonderful way for me to teach the kids to help with tidying up.

Because the toys are always placed in the same labelled areas, I found that the kids knew exactly where to go if I asked: “Where is Stella’s baby?” I then used this knowledge against them, asking them to “put the baby away in the baby box!”

4. Make it educational.

My kids have recently become obsessed with learning new words, so I reorganised the bookshelf to have all the books displayed in rainbow coloured order. When I go to put books away each day, I ask them what colour the book is, announce the colour with glee, and then place it amongst its matching coloured friends.

It took almost half a year to actually work, but the twins have just started shouting “PURPLE” or “RED” as I pick up a certain book, which *sometimes* results in them pointing or placing the books in the right section. I reckon a few more weeks of “training” and the books will always find their proper home.

5. Clean as you go.

My mother ran our household as a teacher would. When we were playing in a room, she didn’t worry about the mess we were making. Then when we were ready to move outdoors or to another space, we cleaned up before we left. I’ve decided to take the same “clean as you go” policy in my house.

When the kids seem a bit irritated or attempt to leave a room, I say “it’s time to clean up, please” and put on our cleaning songs. If I receive a “no”, as I so often do, I remind them that it wasn’t a question and that it has to be done. We then all work together to finish the task.

6. Celebrate the final result.

Whenever we finish cleaning a room, I always make sure to celebrate with the kids. I don’t go overboard, as this is a task that they should do without reward, but a high five and a hug seems to do the trick.

If you’re anything like me, you’re going to find it quite strange to work with a nine or fifteen-month-old on cleaning techniques, but just remind yourself that you’re planting foundational seeds that will grow into life-altering and long-lasting behaviours.

Your goal as a parent is to help create a fully-functional adult. So while refusal to clean and an ongoing power struggle with following directions is likely, building routines that your entire family can practice together will absolutely result in an easier to manage day-to-day life for you.

If you have some tricks up your sleeves that have helped you get your kids to enjoy cleaning, leave a comment below. And if you’re keen to hear me talk more about this subject with Holly Wainwright, co-host of This Glorious Mess, listen to the final episode of Season One of The Baby Bubble!

How have you gotten your child to like cleaning? Tell us your tricks in the comments section below.

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