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Having a Home Where Small Children Live, AKA “Holy Cow my house is a mess”

Late last night, my husband says “I’m having a few friends come over tomorrow night. Around 6. OK?”

“Sure” I say.  “I’ll clean up the living room and kitchen at the very least.  Hmmm… Selina’s got a doctor check up in the morning.  And I need to pick up our nephew from school.  And we’ve got to stop by the alterations place.  And grocery shopping. And birthday present. And baths. And meals. I’m sure I can get everything done.”  I look over at my husband… he’s fast asleep. Oh well.


As soon as we get up in the morning, reality sets in.  I must have had a momentary lapse of judgement where I thought I was 21 and childless again. There is no way on God’s green earth this will all get done.  I must pick and choose. The rest of it was going to take a back seat and we’ll see if we even get near there…

To my credit, I got everything done, except for baths.  To my husband’s credit, he cleaned the living room when he got home from work and he saw that nothing had changed. Hey, it was his friends who were on their way.


As I was rushing through my day, I came to the realization that, with two small children and a full-time job, my house will never be actually clean.  In fact, I can’t even pretend it’s somewhat under control.  I’m barely treading water.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  I’ve got only my nose above the water.  I can barely breath and I’m frantically trying to get my eyeballs out as well. But at the end of the day, as long as I can say I’ve used my time well, then I can go to sleep happy.  And today, I used my time extremely well.

Also today, I implemented a routine that I’ve been using the past week.  I call it “Power Hour.”  I have a very large problem getting Selina to do her chores without hysterically breaking down like it’s the end of the world.  So every morning, we’ve been sitting down with a color crayon in hand and a very colorful piece of paper before us.  I write down the chore and she “draws” a corresponding picture.  Please keep in mind that she’s 4.  So her drawing skills are more like stick figures, but she knows exactly what she means.  Then we set the timer for one hour, I strap Evin on, and we start on our lists.  Today, her list consisted of scrubbing the toilets (for the 3rd time this week), washing the bathroom mirror, sweeping the kitchen, picking up all of her toys in the living room, and washing the kitchen table.  Once she has finished her chores, she may go play in her room quietly for the remainder of the hour while I keep working on my chore list.  And there is almost no whining about it.  It’s fantastic.  However, there are some rules if you’re going to use this idea:

1. Do not make this list more than 5 things long for young children.  It’s too daunting and then nothing will get done.

2. Take the time to actually show them how to do the job.  Work with the child several times before letting them go on their own.

3. Check their progress often.

4. Use compliments as compliments.  No “buts.” And be specific about the compliment.   For example,  Don’t say a general “Great job”.  Say “Great job lining up your shoes in the closet.”  And “Great job picking up your clothes”  should end there.  Don’t add a “but you forgot a sock.”  Let your child know that you see that they are trying and, for the most part, succeeding.

5. Do not go back over what your child has done in order to correct it.  They will see you do that and understand that they did not do a good enough job.  My toilets get cleaned every couple of days for a reason.  I know that Selina is 4 and does not clean the toilet very well in one go.  But if she does it 3 or 4 times per week, then the chances of it actually getting cleaned like if I were doing it, are much greater.

6. Use bribery.  Selina has 2 little fishbowls with popsicle sticks.  Sticks go in the reward bowl if she doesn’t whine about chores, but get taken out if she does.  Once she gets all 20 sticks in the reward bowl, she gets a special treat.  Right now she’s working towards a special Snow White doll and house.


Follow the simple rules and you will be well on your way to children who not only do their chores and help you out, but are learning to do it with a glad heart.  And that’s what child rearing is all about: the state of your child’s heart.

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