Dirty Laundry and Kids. Not the Virtual Kind!

It’s the cliché scene in many teen movies – the bombsite that marks the room of a teenager. Half-finished food, dirty dishes, school papers, textbooks, various and sundry symbols of pop culture – and the ubiquitous mound of soiled laundry. If your teen isn’t doing their own laundry, now is the time to teach them – before they return home from college with a sack of laundry so large it racks up excess baggage fees.

When is a child old enough to tackle laundry chores? Children as young as toddlers can start helping with laundry, and getting them involved at that age, when they want to emulate the parent, is much easier than trying to get them when they are surly teenagers. To a three- or four-year-old, that big pile of laundry offers limitless possibilities for fun – sorting colors from whites, matching socks, folding finished laundry and putting it away. Making their involvement fun now will hopefully transition into more skilled laundry duty later on. Of course, it goes without saying that parents need to keep small children safe from laundry products that can pose a threat, such as liquid laundry pods that have proven dangerous to little ones who might view them as candy or toys. (And now a word from our sponsor – Charlie’s Soap Single Use Powder Packets – biodegradable innocuous packaging and easy to use.)

By the time they enter elementary school, kids want less to be like Mom and Dad, and there are many other things they’d rather be doing than helping with laundry. If they argue they don’t know how to wash clothes, remember how easily they tackle the intricacies of an iPhone – they can handle the washer and dryer. At this age, they can also, with some guidance, learn to treat stains, measure detergent (again, Charlie’s Powder Packets are an easy and safe option) and load the washer and dryer. Be patient and expect some learning curves – pink whites or shrunken wool sweaters. Emphasize the importance of their contribution to this household chore, and don’t be afraid to tie certain privileges to getting the laundry done. If they committed to washing and changing their bedclothes on Wednesday and they are sleeping on the same dirty sheets on Friday, maybe losing PlayStation privileges will get those sheets cleaned more quickly.

Establishing a routine will help kids keep on top of their dirty clothes but also don’t be afraid to allow them to deal with the consequences of not doing their laundry. They will learn to plan ahead once they realize that they can’t wear their favorite skirt or shirt to a party tonight because they didn’t wash it yesterday.

Here are some tips that will help establish a regular laundry routine:

  • Place laundry baskets or hampers in every bedroom and bathroom. Divided hampers are useful for sorting colors and whites.
  • Install closet rods low enough so kids can reach them, then teach them how to hang up clothes.
  • Explain the difference between dirty clothes and those that have been worn but are wearable again.
  • Label dresser drawers so children can put away clothes themselves.
  • Clip clothespins to the side of every hamper and teach kids to use them to mark stains.

By the time they are a teenager, hormones and teen attitude steps in, and their lives are much busier than when they were in elementary school. There’s that social studies paper on the medieval feudal system that’s due tomorrow morning; band practice today ran until almost 7.00 p.m.; and can I go with my friends after school to grab some pizza before band practice? Don’t let the laundry habit slip – we are all busy, and they need to learn to balance responsibilities and plan their time efficiently. At this age, parents are often tempted to focus too much on learning academic skills at the expense of life skills, and not want to subject their children to the drudgery of daily chores, like laundry. Don’t do it – you don’t want your kids to develop a view of some tasks, like homework, as “exalted,” and others, like laundry, as “menial.” They need to learn instead to prioritize, manage their time, and start being responsible for their own care and maintenance.

Creating a sense of pride and independence in your children is pretty much every parent’s ultimate goal. Chores, including laundry, are the curriculum that teach important life skills and form the foundation for the rest of their lives.

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