Life is messy. From overpacked schedules filled with spilled Gatorade and muddy cleats to fast-growing children needing new clothes and toys, staying on track and tidy can seem impossible. However, it's important for parents to remember that those little mess-makers can also be great helpers.
And that help is good for more than your peace of mind. Teaching cleanliness and organization to your children early on is beneficial for their futures, as well. According to Shawn Grime of the American School Counselor Association, "disorganization increases the potential for students to receive lower grades, complete fewer assignments, be less motivated, experience greater frustration with school and have lower self-esteem." In the same vein, a survey found in the Chronicle of Higher Education found that "88 percent of students (say) they are distracted from learning in even casually or moderately messy environments."
For the sake of their future college dorm rooms, start your kids on a clean path early. Dr. Debi Lynes says that children as young as 16 months can help with household chores. Have them hold the dustpan as you sweep, help set napkins or place mats on the table or close open drawers while older children help unload the dishwasher.
Use their rooms to start teaching personal responsibility. Set up low clothes hampers where they can put their dirty clothes and have a place for their toys. Perhaps you can cycle out different bins of toys to keep them fresh and exciting. This will minimize requests for more playthings, reducing clutter.
As your kids get older, have them take on more responsibilities and find their favorite chores. Put on fun, loud music and help your child vacuum while dancing around. Reward them with a piece of candy for cleaning up all their toys in a certain amount of time, or host a family party at the end of a long day of cleaning. Tying in happy memories, rather than echoes of "Because I said so!" or fights about clean rooms, will encourage your child to think positively about cleaning. Remember, your kids will learn best by example, so find the joy in your own chores, too.
And though spring-cleaning gets most of the positive press, getting your home, family and life ready for winter is also important. Have your young kids pick up their toys outside in preparation for winter. Kids ages 3 to 5 can help plant flower bulbs for fall or clean the outdoor play tables. No one wants sticky messes to last through snow. Give each child a bag to gather leaves as their colors change and they fall. Jump in the piles. (And make sure there are no loose rakes around.) Double-digit kids can learn to shovel snow. Have a snowball fight or make snow angels to make the hard work more enjoyable.
According to Becky Bailey, Ph.D., "the goal of rituals is connection. Rituals create sacred space designated for togetherness and unity." Think about rituals you can incorporate into your home life. Is there a local church or temple looking for people to donate winter clothes? Are there homeless shelters where you can bring quilts, sleeping bags, supplies or food? Is there a charity your family can agree to all help? Take a hint from the Daum family. Over 15 years, their eldest daughter, Carly, decided to donate her bat mitzvah money to Save The Children. Her younger sister, Justine, followed suit. Currently, they've raised more than $125,000 for Save The Children, mostly through inspiring neighbors to host garage and tag sales.
By incorporating the whole family, you'll be making impactful, rewarding traditions for years to come.