# children # Home and Garden

Raising Tidy Children

Raising tidy children. Oh, how I love this topic, mainly because I believe we as parents overcomplicate the issue. We all want our children to be tidy and look after themselves. They won't always live with us, after all, and when they finally leave the house as adults, we want them to leave with good habits to run their own homes. But where do you begin? How early is too early to teach children to pick up after themselves? And what do you do about all that whining and complaining?

In this week's video I share how we do it in our house by discussing the following six points:

Point one: Repetition is key

Point two: Build good habits

Point three: Keep the playroom tidy

Point four: Household messes need to be cleaned up

Point five: Age-appropriate chores

Point six: Reward system? (If this concept really works for your family, then use one. We do not use any charts or reward systems and in the video I explain why.)

The real key is to start now. The younger your children, the better to implement these lifelong habits. Don't put it off for another day (or year). Make it fun. If your attitude toward household chores is negative, your children will adopt that same attitude. Avoid approaching your new household rules with a defeatist mentality. You can do this! And (spoiler alert) your children might actually grow to love tidying.

If you are unable to see the video above, click here, look in the sidebar of this blog, or visit my channel: www.youtube.com/TheDailyConnoisseur

Maggie Carlise was expecting frivolity from At Home With Madame Chic, but instead she was pleasantly surprised as she writes in her article called, Reaching for Mindfulness.

Bella NYC recommends At Home With Madame Chic for it's down-to-earth advice.

Colleen Logie chooses At Home With Madame Chic as her book of the month.

Comments of the Week

UseHerNam3 writes:

I think where you get so much resistance is that people still cannot see the wider implications. People are talking about comfort as if there aren't black trousers and t shirts out there that are as comfortable as sweatpants and pyjamas. The reason why people can agree that you should dress for weddings and the theatre is because people (for now) still acknowledge that sense of occasion. The age we live in now, the sense and wonder that accompanies treating daily and perhaps mundane tasks as an occasion is slipping. Going to the supermarket is no longer an occasion, nor is going to the courthouse, nor is going to work. The fluidity that comes with modern times has completely eroded the demarcation between these distinct elements of our lives. As a result we fail to treat it with the dignity it deserves as we cram it into our self-centred ego-driven lives. Comfort is not the issue, nor time, nor budget as these things are not correlated with sloppy dressing. It's about egocentricity.

UseHerName3, I really love your well-articulated point, thank you! Well said, indeed. Looking presentable is not about comfort or budget, or even time. These are all excuses that people make. It can be done on any budget. You can find comfortable clothes that are also presentable and it takes no more time to put on a presentable outfit than an old pair of sweatpants. Thank you for your observations.

Shannon M writes:
Many months ago, you inspired me to create my own 10 item wardrobe : ) I'm a nursing mother of 3, so mine consists of entirely nursing dresses. There are SO many benefits. I can go anywhere throughout the day and be appropriately dressed, from the grocery store to the art gallery, I don't have to even think about it. Wearing dresses helps hide postpartum weight, which makes me feel much more confident. And it's SO easy, I just have to pull on a dress. I'd say that's even easier than people who choose sweats! And most importantly, my children will learn that being a momma doesn't mean you have to feel and look haggard all the time. A momma can be calm (well, most of the time, lol), well-mannered, and presentable. And I've got you and your wonderful work to thank for all this : )

Hi Shannon, I'm happy that the ten-item wardrobe has been so freeing for you! It brings me so much pleasure to hear how it has impacted your life in a positive way.

Rikki T writes:
I'm a nonverbal communication professor, and yes, how you dress absolutely matters - how you behave, the messages you're communicating about yourself and others and the situations, how others perceive you. It matters a lot.

Hi Rikki, your class sounds so interesting. I absolutely believe that our nonverbal communication is very powerful and something that not a lot of people think about. Thank you for chiming in!


Regarding Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic, Liz writes:

Just read your latest book and it is AN ANSWER TO PRAYER! Getting copies for my daughters and all the young women in my life. I have been bemoaning the loss of so many of these things...and gotten a little bit sloppier myself (wearing those exercise clothes too many places!). Thank you so much for this timely tome!!

Hi Liz, I am so happy you loved Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic. Thank you for your heartfelt support!

This week I would love to know... what are your tips for raising tidy children? Do you struggle in this area? How do your children respond to household chores? I want to hear your thoughts on raising tidy children. Chime in below, and your comment could be chosen as comment of the week!

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Carrie Willard said...

Re: rewards, I agree totally, and so does the science on that. Rewards remove the intrinsic value of the thing. Behavioral economists write about this. Also, rewards are for exceptional behavior, not expected behavior (as you said).

I have 7 kids, ages 1-17, and I will say that despite my being the same person with the same habits and parenting style, my kids are very different in how neat they are just because of their personality. Neatness has a lot to do with conscientiousness, and people vary in their levels of that quality. So I don't always expect, for instance, a child who is very scatterbrained and distracted to keep her room as neat, but she should concern herself with *community areas* of the home.

For older kids, it's the same as with messy husbands. Setting a good example, leaving funny Post-It notes as reminders (when my husband makes a mess and doesn't clean it, I leave a sad face on a note and he gets the point without my having to mention it), praising them when they do remember to do it, etc...

Carrie Willard said...

oops I forgot to mention that when it comes to rewards, I did use those for establishing a NEW habit, for instance, potty training, but then I "extinguished" it slowly after a few days once the new habit was more ingrained.

Maureen @Raising The Capable Student said...

This is such an important topic. I am a mother, a tutor, and a teacher, and I see many students who are stressed to the breaking point in part because they are not tidy in their habits. If we can teach our children to take the time to be tidy when they are young, they will have an easier time as they get older and the pressures and demands of school life begin to close in on them.

I disagree with people who are fatalistic about their ability to be organized. I always tell my messy students that there is no shame in not being a naturally organized person, but that there is shame in not getting help and learning how to do better.

Robyn said...

I agree with the no rewards system. It is amazing how far a thank you and you really helped me out goes. As a teacher one of the hardest parts is to move students away from a reward system to one of accountability. When the students ask if they get a reward for certain behaviors I tell them they can have one when I get my reward for unloading the dishwasher last night. The students giggle and then I say the best reward is knowing a job has been well done.

Unknown said...

Loved this! Thank you so much.

greeneherb said...

One way for children to have less problem with being organized and tidy, is simply to have less stuff. I know you are already emphasizing this for grown-ups, with clothing etc.. but children can often be overwhelmed with the amount of toys, clothing, devices given to them . I think controlling the flow of this into our households would be a great topic too.

Thank you!

Luciana Erregue said...

I agree on children having less stuff, and making this issue manageable at the age appropriate level. I also think that sometimes it is nature, not nurture that will make someone more or less tidy and organized; they may have grown in an organized household, and not be tidy at all when living on their own. Once they grow up perhaps they will want to do what you, Jennifer, or myself, have done; to make a conscious and mindful effort to live in a tidy environment. I believe in planting the seeds, a little bit every day, without emphasizing order above all, but making it organically the way the day evolves, and see what happens down the road.

Unknown said...

You are doing so great! My girls are 5 and 7 (and I also have another child arriving this summer) and we are light years away from what you describe. Part of the issue is that I am not inherently organized. It's my worst quality, but I grew up with a full time nanny/housekeeper (both parents worked full time) and I got in the habit of having someone pick up after me. And now I find it easier to pick up after my kids rather than work with them TEACHING them how to do it. With #3 on the way, one of my friends recently stressed to me to really help them increase their independence over the next few months to make baby's arrival easier & I am definitely going to take your tips to heart. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Really important information! You are a great example to moms everywhere! As a grandmother, I have a little experience as well and would like to add to your really informative post.
The reward system I learned to incorporate was allowing the children to have "perks" (not an allowance), example:
if they wanted to go out and play and the bed was unmade, clothes not put away, or other chores not completed, then it was a good time to check their room, etc... and make sure that it was done before the perks, of going out to play, art time, tv time, baking cookies time, and the list goes on. This teaches them about "consequences" and personal responsibility.
I would add: TAKE THE TIME TO TEACH". Don't just say to child, "do__________", without first teaching them the "HOW."
And one more thing, I would strongly suggest "PLEASE DO NOT REDO THEIR WORK." It causes children to feel that "their" effort was not good enough. That they are NOT PERFECT enough. This is where repetition comes in to play, obviously the more they perform a chore, the more proficient they become, such as with us as adults, which is what we are in essence doing, raising wonderful adults! Yes, I do believe in play, all children need to play, because this is also the child's "work", and they learn so much from playing, and I do not mean video games for hours!!!

boat people said...

I watch "how clean is your house" and "obsessive-compulsive cleaners" with my kids. Nothing like a little shock value as a life lesson ;) I told them if they don't learn to be tidy when they are young, they will very well end up with awful sloppy habits that will make their life very unenjoyable later.
We also talk a lot about good stewardship and being a good steward of everything we own :)

Susan M said...

A tip I'd like to throw in the ring is when the children get old enough to bicker, give them "weeks." If it is that child's week, she gets to pick the chore she prefers (and choose the seat in the restaurant and choose the dessert that night and choose if she gets the first or the second bath). It stops the arguments and negotiations and makes for a more serene home.

Nana Lee said...

Thanks, Jennifer! Agreed.

I have three girls, ages 11, 8 and 3. Here is what we do.

1) They put all their dirty clothes in the hamper. We all fold laundry together.
2) They all help me set the table and load their dishes in the dishwasher after. My older two sometimes help put away after they are dry.
3) My older one knows how to make eggs in the morning. My older two make anything in the toaster or microwave. My youngest one knows how to take her milk out the fridge and pour her cereal. My older two bake and clean up after. I help only with the oven. They can all take out their own snacks, water and respective bowls and cups.
4) The older two make their own healthy lunches for school, sometimes with dinner leftovers the night before.
5) They older two are responsible for their own homework and packing their own bags for school and travel.
6) They help dust and vacuum.

We do not have a "reward" system, other than it is rewarding to live in a tidy home.

Things that helped me
1) Keep all things accessible to your kids, such as bowls, snacks and utensils where they can take out themselves.
2) Give them the chance to do everything, within reason, themselves.
3) Foster independence and creativity.

One comments on your post:
"when she is bored and has nothing to do."

The word "bored" does not exist in our home. I told them from day one that if they are "bored" they are not using their imagination and all their books, crafts, and games to their fullest potential. I do not hear that word at all.

Childern gain the confidence to face the world when they are given the opportunity to potentially fail (and they might even the first few times!) but you give them the skills, love and support to get back up again. When they achieve something after several falls, they gain confidence. Think of learning to ride the bike!

Rose said...

Jennifer your video warmed the cockles of this old school marm's heart. Teaching children to help, to organise themselves and to be self reliant is, I believe, as important as teaching them to read and write. When I taught one of the saddest sights at annual camps was teenagers who did not have basic kitchen skills -- clearing, stacking, washing and drying, putting away. Incapable teenagers become incapable adults, they don't magically learn these skills.

Age-appropriate contributions to the family home build a child's confidence, skill set and self esteem. Children learn to be both independent and part of a team (the family).

I recall that in At Home with Madame Chic you spoke of how Monsieur and Jeune Homme Chic respected the family home and would not scatter their belongings throughout, M Chic even had a place for his pipe. This demonstrates true daily connoisseur-ship, respect for the home, for Mme Chic the chief homemaker and for the family.

Rose said...

ETA What fun to see Mr Daily Connoisseur! I guess that was a cameo appearance? :)

celkalee said...

Wonderful tips. Interestingly, this type of parenting is considered "old fashioned" by some new parents. I had two sons, very different personalities, but they did contribute to the running of the home while they lived here. Older son, now 43, has not wavered one inch in his home maintenance. His home, his workshop etc. spotless and perfectly organized. Second son, not so much, actually not at all. They were parented the same but the outcome varied significantly.

Consistency is key for ingraining behavior in our children and ourselves. Routines keep us grounded and focused. Best of luck to you and yours. Keep up the good work. Parenting is a difficult job but can be the most rewarding one you will ever have.

AquinoFamily99 said...

This was an excellent video and post, thank you.
I have 7 children ages 7 months to 14 and everyone but the baby does his part and we follow the system you describe pretty closely. Everyone has daily and weekly chores, appropriate to his level.
What I have noticed over the years now is that they do not voluntarily or automatically do their work or pick up after themselves anymore. The have to be told. It has happened gradually as the family has grown and I have grown busier.
I believe what you said about repetition and also doing the work together are both very key.
I hope that if I strive to make the work more pleasant, and operate as a team, that we will improve.
This is a challenging area of life, and so very important!

Judy said...

My five children are all grown now, but I just wanted to tell you that I couldn't agree more! Children should definitely be helping around the house. I did use a little reward system, of sorts, when the kids were very young, just to establish habits. We homeschooled our kids K-12, so I used a "chore chart" with two goals in mind: teaching a basic morning routine and teaching the value of money. For each item on their chart that they completed they received one penny. When they had five pennies, they could trade them for a nickel. For two nickels, I would give them a dime. When they accumulated four quarters they could trade them for a dollar bill. There was no need for worksheets or play money to teach this concept. They would save their money for special things or maybe give a little something to Jesus. Our chore chart was more of a teaching tool, and as the kids got older we no longer used it. But it served its purpose well.

I'm sure that when that new little baby comes, you will be so happy that your girls are such cheerful helpers.It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job!


Jolie said...

Hi Jennifer! I have a question in regards to children's clothes. I try to follow a 10 item wardrobe myself (more or less) but recently had a baby and he was gifted TONS of clothes! I figure this will taper down over time, but so you stick to a 10 item wardrobe for your daughters too, or do they generally have more clothes? Thanks so much--adore your books and videos!

Jessica Dudley said...

Jennifer, I would love a post about this!

Frieda said...

In our family, DOING was better than TELLING. Especially in the shared parts of our home, it was always much more fun and rewarding when my husband and/or I did the tidying and chores along with our children, rather than just telling the kids to do them. Besides getting the work done well, it made time for great talks and lots of fun, even into their teens. Somehow it worked better than expecting the kids to work together with one another without our participation.

Also, when our children were really too young to do the tidying on their own, rather than asking them to help ME clean up THEIR messes, I always asked if they would 'allow' me to help THEM. I believe this helped them to take ownership of their own responsibilities. Usually, of course, they were happy to agree to let me help. When they began to say that they were big now and wanted to do it on their own, then I stepped back...and as you said, Jennifer, I did not fail to praise them for their efforts, no matter if the degree of perfection wasn't quite up to the bar. (I did often ask them to help me with MY chores, too.)


Hi Jennifer! Such a great post! I totally agree with you. It is a very important part of education as well as good manners for example. I think that keeping our space tidy is a sort of politesse for ourselves. In Europe we don't often give money rewards to the children. In most families around us people consider that it is normal for children to help in the household without rewarding them with money. So I guess it is a very French way to raise your children too ;-)
Claire @ A Preppy perspective

Ronise said...

i have a 1 year old and i want to teach her early. i started to ask her to help me pick up her toys before bed. she usually only puts one thing on the bin and then starts taking things out to play, but i am trying to teach her. i also try to be a good example.

Polly said...

I am slowly catching up on your videos and I have to say, this one is just great! I am a big believer in training children to be tidy, to take responsibility at home, and to learn the skills they will need for the future. I smiled as I listened to your video because we are on the same page! Experience has shown me that repetition, consistency, and encouragement go a long way.

Children are capable of so much! One of my favorite stories on this point is from last summer; in July I spent a *hot* week mulching our large flower beds. One day I was musing aloud at how when I work outside, things seemed to get messy inside. My daughter, who at the time was four and a half (yes! 4.5!), apparently listened to this because at one point she asked to go inside for a while. I told her she could, because I was working in the flower beds just outside the rooms where she'd be playing and could hear her through the screen if she needed anything. Fifteen or so minutes later she came and asked me to come inside...she had tidied up our entire main room to a level of absolute spotlessness, with nothing out of place. I was floored! (And so grateful!)

My house is not typically "perfect" since I have two young children, we live in the country (gardens, a cat, a large dog...) and we homeschool, but my children are a huge boon to me.

I also believe that training children to care for their homes pays dividends later in life. My sister and I were not forced to clean up after ourselves as children (unless the housekeeper was coming--and then we had to pick up our toys....half-heartedly, I will add). I have a natural tendency to tidiness and organization, so when I became an adult I learned what I needed to learn about keeping house. My sister, on the other hand, was neither naturally tidy nor trained to do it anyhow, and she struggles with messes and disorganization...to the point where I have tried to go clean her entire apartment FOR her before! It is, simply put, very difficult to learn these habits once a person is an adult. So--start as you wish to go on, as my British sister-in-law says! :) Great video!

Francesca said...

Very helpful watching the video and reading the comments. I'm a single parent of 2 (9 and 12). About tidiness I tried many roads: you can take out a new toy only after you put the first one away (exhausting to check all the time if they respected it); you can do this thing you like only after you put your things in order; every day you dedicate 20 minutes to it (listening to music to enjoy it more); the common areas of the house must be in order, your room as you like, you just have to free the floor once a week for cleaning, but if it is a mess you can't invite your friends there (hoping that after a while the growing mess was going to be unbearable also for them and so the need for tidiness was spontaneously rising inside them). All of them worked maybe for a while but neither was able to instill the need and pleasure to be in a acceptable tiny space. In theory yes they say they agree and understand but in practice... Today I am going to start trying: you gain time in videogaming/ipad related activities by spending time in tidying up: if they don't do it I m happy because they avoid those activities (another topic of interest) which I greatly dislike but seems to be inevitable... Or finally I will have a less messy house. I'm not really proud of myself about the way I am trying to manage it but for me is about choosing the lesser evil...About chores: after school hours, homework, music practice, meals, playing (which I still consider with music the most important activity in order to develop their imagination), there is really not much time left for them. I used to ask them to help me but lately I thought: their job is to attend school with good results, mine for the time being is to run my household in a acceptable way. I make sure they see me perform my house chores so they don't grow up spoiled children and maybe learn by imitation (I could hire a help but I choosed to use them as a meditation/fitness activity in between a mental demanding one). The only house chore they have is emptying the dishwasher (to be able to gain some pocket money) and cleaning the table during the weekend.