“Cleaning the house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing,” the comedienne Phyllis Diller once said. But though it can be challenging to keep things clean, neat, and orderly when you’ve got young children at home, it’s not impossible. In fact, the secret is to make your kids part of the solution, rather than the problem. Just in time for spring-cleaning season, here’s how to get the kiddos in on the act.

Start ‘Em Young

“Toddlers love to help out and often feel such pride in their accomplishments,” says Andrea Reiser, a Westport, Connecticut-based parenting blogger and mother of four boys. “When cleaning and picking up is part of the expectations you establish within the family, kids catch on quickly and accept that they are an important part of making the household run smoothly and neatly.” But finding tasks that are within their capability is key, she says. For 2- and 3-year-olds, that might mean putting toys back where they belong or collecting place mats after meals.

Have Realistic Expectations

Preschoolers may not have the coordination or dexterity to neatly make their beds every morning, so a good first effort may be to have them pull the comforter up to the top of the bed, says Kim Cosentino, owner of The De-Clutter Box, an organizing company in Westmont, Illinois. “Be proud of your child’s efforts, and don’t expect perfection.”

Be Specific

Try to give one simple instruction or direction at a time. To a 5- or 6-year-old, “Clean up your room” is an overwhelming statement, but “Put away all the cars in their container” is clearly understood, says organizing pro Cosentino.

Paint a Picture

For the pre-reading set, visual aids can help ensure their success, says parenting blogger Reiser. “For instance, attach a picture of the object that goes inside each bin or box so your child knows where all the little cars or blocks go.”

Set Limits on Toys

Cleaning is a lot quicker and easier when there’s less clutter to pick up in the first place. Keep toys under control by storing them in covered bins, says Cosentino. “When the bin is overflowing, that flags you that it’s probably time to weed out and eliminate.” Designate a few hours to help your kids choose toys to donate to children who don’t have so many. They’ll learn organization skills and charity at the same time.

Visit the Land of Make-Believe

Kids 5 and 6 years old love to role-play, so try encouraging them to start “Cara’s Cleaning Company” or “Henry’s Helping Hands.” Outfit them for the role with a hat, apron, and child-size rubber gloves. You get to play the part of the appreciative customer.

Work, Then Dance

Make housework fun by incorporating games into various chores. “My girlfriend gives her girls a task such as picking up everything on the floor and challenges them to accomplish the task by the end of a song,” says Tracy Fish, a mother of a 7-month-old in Scottsdale, Arizona, who is already thinking of how to help her child get involved in simple chores. “If they get done before the song is over, they get to dance, which is a huge motivator.”

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