MomTrusted on Parenting, Kids, and Early Education

Getting your kids to help with the laundry

Guest Post by Amanda Nicholson

Like changing a flat tire, I think laundry is a life skill we all must eventually learn. Mom will not move with you after college and self-cleaning clothes have yet to be invented. So it goes without saying, if you live in my house, you will learn to do laundry, and the best way to learn is by doing. Now you might be thinking “I’d have more luck getting them to eat broccoli than fold a single shirt”. Yes it is not a simple battle to win – you’ve got to have multiple strategies and tactics that vary depending on child and age. It may not be an easy battle, but it is one you can win and I’m going to share with you easy tips and tricks to turn laundry day into a family affair.

Prep Work: Before you begin assigning laundry duties, you’ll need to do some prep work. Start by giving each family member a mesh laundry bag. The bags will be used to collect each member’s dirty clothes until laundry day. Next select a laundry day. In our household that day is Sunday. I feel like we’re ready for the week ahead when everything is cleaned and put away. After you’ve designated family laundry day, go to each person’s room and show them how and where to put away clean clothes. Laundry will get done much faster if everyone puts away their own clothes. While you’re giving one-on-one laundry training, instruct them to turn clothes right-side-out before placing them in the mesh bag. This saves time later when you are folding.

Preschool: This is the easiest age to solicit help from. Preschoolers are natural helpers. They love doing what grown-ups do and being independent. The downside is they can create more work than actually helping. With this age group I keep tasks very simple and safe (no laundry products involved). I ask them to help mommy sort piles by colors; whites/grays on one side and dark colors on another. It’s a simple task that can be managed by little hands and also a great way to sneak in a lesson on colors. You can also ask them to help collect laundry bags from everyone.

Elementary/Middle School: With this age group you have to use a carrot or stick approach (or a combination of both). These are older kids who have now realized there are more fun things to do than help mom with the house chores. I wouldn’t expect much enthusiastic volunteering from this group. Pick one task and make it their primary job. If you will be responsible for the washing and drying, make them responsible for the folding. Show them how you fold then lower your standards of what constitutes “neatly folded”.  On wash day, give them back their mesh bag with clean clothes in it and have them fold and put their garments away. Carrot approach: Create a reward at the end of each week for carrying out this task. It doesn’t have to be something expensive; in fact it doesn’t have to have any financial cost. For example, you could give them an extra hour of TV watching or let them choose what’s for dinner on a given night. My kids like to deal with cash so I add a credit to their monthly allowance. Stick approach: If they give you excessive griping and complaining followed with a haphazard job, make a punishment. This could be extra chores or taking something of value away from them. I’m not a big fan of the stick approach but sometimes Mom has to be tough darn it!

High School: At this age your child should be well on their way to becoming a well adjusted, responsible adult. They get up in the morning all by themselves, have formed mature- social relationships with their peers, and may even be making life altering decisions like where to go to college.  Oh yes, at this age your “child” should be sorting, washing, folding all on their own without any prompting from you. If they’re not that means you’ve failed as a mother and should out yourself now so we can all judge your terrible parenting skills. The truth of the matter is that teenagers dread chores (as do adults). To make them take ownership of their laundry you’re going to have to use a bigger stick or better carrot. Since my son now has an actual w2 job and is off the Mom & Dad payroll, I have to use an all stick approach – do your laundry or else! For me the or else is time away from his PS3. He knows that at some point during the weekend he must finish his laundry. If this does not get done he will not be playing any PS3 during the following weekend, which consequently will leave him with plenty of time to do the laundry.

College: Now your little bird has left the nest. He or she is a young adult with young adult responsibilities. If they aren’t doing their own laundry at this point you might as well give up and call a laundry service (that’s what my company does!). To get your college-aged child to do the laundry you must treat them as you would an adult. Reason with them, remind them they weren’t raised this way!, send them care packages with a bottle of tide and rolls of quarters. If none of these tactics work you will just need to pray they find a girlfriend/boyfriend who is willing to do the laundry for them. Lucky for my mother-in-law that godsend of domestic chores was me.

Husband: He brings home the bacon, plays soccer with the kids and manages to give you the occasional back rub. This does not however excuse him from laundry duty. My husband will put all his garments away without any complaint or procrastination. Every sock will make its way to his sock drawer and every dress shirt will be nicely hung on a hanger, on the correct side of the closet. How did I turn this once laundry-phobic man into Mr. Wash & Fold you ask; I’ve offered him a pretty attractive carrot. Every laundry day that he puts his items away I let him decide what laundry I wear to bed. Let’s just say my knee length grandma-gown will not be worn that night.

It’s time for us moms to end our one-man operation and bring in some much deserved help. Your kids will one day appreciate your laundry lessons and you might actually get some time to spend doing something just for you!


Amanda Nicholson is a stay at home mom who started her own laundry service.

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