This blog entry is specifically for parents, young or old, of kids small or grown and out of the house.
We all like to “do” for our family: To take care of them, to nurture, to help, to make them feel better. It’s in our blood as parents. We can’t stand to see our kids hurting, in pain, or in some cases, the least bit upset. They need to have time to be kids!
While all of this is true, it’s also important to also teach kids important life skills, and if we start while they’re young, it won’t be such a chore when they’re older!
Whenever I meet with parents of kids still living at home, we usually wind up discussing two things: decluttering (usually the child’s room or play room) and how to make things easier, and in that equation, the subject of laundry almost always comes up. So here are a few things I tell parents of these kids:
Laundry: Even the youngest child can help with this task. A two year old can learn matching by helping to match socks. (And yes, they’ll probably start then stop midway through and go do something else. Or they’ll start then dump everything back into the basket, mixing it all up again.) But no matter what happens, THANK THEM for helping. Make them feel good and capable of doing the task. We all have that inner need to help others and even the youngest among us needs to hear that praise and feel appreciated.
As kids reach school age (ages 4-8), they can start taking their dirty clothes to the laundry room and help with sorting. Keep it simple: colors=cold, whites=warm. (Catch that alliteration?) I like having bins for each in the laundry room so family members can just come in and sort right away. At this age, they can also begin to put their clean clothes away. Have a basket for each family member, and FOLD CLOTHES as they come out of the dryer, putting them in the correct basket, then they can come in the laundry room, take their basket, and go put their own clothes away.
Kids in middle school and junior high should be able to help actually do the laundry with some supervision. (Let’s face it, moms, we all have those articles that we don’t want to put into the dryer.) And they can definitely learn how to wash towels and bed sheets.
By high school, they should be doing their own laundry, thus cutting back on the amount Mom has to do. We all know the high school years are busy years, but by doing their own laundry, they’re also realizing that they’ll have to schedule time for tasks such as these when they’re in college. And they’ll have even less time then.
Toys: The same ideas as above can be applied to picking up toys. Starting at a very young age, kids can learn to put away their own toys as they finish playing with them. Bins or baskets can come in handy for sorting and storing toys, but if you’re using bins, make sure they’re clear so kids can see what’s inside. If you’re using baskets or containers that are not clear, then put a picture of what’s inside on the outside of the container so kids know what belongs there. This is especially important with young non-readers. Start instilling early the concept of, “If you got it out, you put it away.” Make cleaning up fun by singing silly songs and make sure to thank them for helping! Instilling these skills early will carry into later years, and by middle school they can begin dusting and vacuuming and learning to clean, as well.
For parents whose kids are out of the house, just one simple reminder: You are not your children’s personal archivist. If your kids are grown and you still have all of their kindergarten artwork, their baby clothes, Legos, Hot Wheels, report cards, etc., it’s time to box it up and send it with them to their home. One thing I see happen too often is that parents have it all boxed up, but then they allow their kids to go through it at home and then it winds up staying there. Send it to their house, where it will be living in their space, and I guarantee they will sort through it. One more thing to remember: What was important to you as they were growing up may not be important to them, so don’t be surprised if they throw away that paper where they wrote their name for the first time, or decide not to keep all their report cards.
There are many ways we can continue to nurture, help, and be there for our kids, but if we teach them life skills as they grow, they will thank you later. You won’t get that panicked call from college asking how to do laundry, or how to clean a bathroom, or cook a simple meal. And don’t be surprised if their roommates thank you, too! Everyone likes a clean roommate! And by doing it together as they grow, you’ll create memories together that will last a lifetime.