It’s time to turn the tables and empower your tween to do their own laundry. Check out these five parent-to-parent tips for making this transition. Thanks to Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus for sponsoring this post.
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The scene stops me dead in my tracks…
Standing in the doorway to my daughters’ room, I see it lifeless on the floor. It can’t be. Yet, there it is—
The unworn red t-shirt I just washed, dried, folded, and delivered to her dresser YESTERDAY now lying crumpled on the floor next to a pair of dirty, inside-out jeans.
My eyes narrow. My face scrunches up. I scan the room searching for the next offense, but there are too many to count. Clean and dirty clothes are intermingled all over the carpet.
I feel the irritation rising from my now-swelling chest to my already-hot cheeks. I snatch up the rumpled t-shirt with disdain. Clutching it in my fist, I raise it in the air and angrily announce from where I’m standing, “I just washed this!”
The girls hear my Mad-Mom Voice from the living room where they’re snuggled in, and they pause their Netflix immediately. The house goes unnaturally silent. Everyone is waiting—and wincing.
I take a deep breath and collect myself, as I slowly walk out of my girls’ shared bedroom…
“Girls. You told me your laundry was put away. Go back to your room and finish the job and then you can come back and watch your show.”
They sense the exasperation in my voice and hop to it. Less than fifteen minutes later, they’re back on the couch, happily watching TV like nothing happened. The bedroom looks organized, and my shoulders finally relax. I let out a sigh of relief to decompress—glad THAT’S over.
I go to grab the hamper of dirty clothes to prep the next load of laundry, and there it is…peeking out from under a damp beach towel…
The clean, unworn red t-shirt!
That’s was the tipping point, the moment when I truly “lost it” and threw what can only be called an adult temper tantrum.
After rattling off a slew of loud, whiny, and sarcastic statements in the heat of the moment, the tirade finally ended with me dramatically stomping out of the room yelling, “I’ve had enough of THIS!”
The thing is, this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened…
You see, laundry has been an ongoing battle at our house. We’ve tried positive incentives for taking care of this weekly chore, as well as consequences for my girls not following through with their laundry tasks. None of the parenting approaches I’ve taken seem to stick longterm.
As I calmed down from my outburst, I realized my mistake was making the kids’ laundry a problem that I needed to resolve.
I thought about my own bedroom growing up… I’m sure my mom thought it looked like a tornado hit, yet I knew exactly where everything was amid the chaos. Then a light bulb went on in my head: I remembered that I started doing my own laundry in middle school. I instantly started brainstorming a plan to empower my tween girls to do the same.
I also realized that the core of this ongoing family argument is not laundry at all. What’s most frustrating about finding clean garments mixed in with dirty clothes in the hamper is… It feels like our kids don’t value or respect our TIME.
With these realizations in mind, I made a few changes to how we were handling the chore of laundry around our house. And while this is an ongoing experiment, from one parent to another: Here’s what we’ve learned so far from the experience…
Turn the Tables — My Tween Does the Wash. Yours Can Too.
You need to empower your tween to do their own laundry today.
Here are five tips to more smoothly transitioning to your tween doing the laundry at your house…
1. SET EXPECTATIONS.
Sit down with your kids and tell them, in a positive way, that you’ve decided to stop nagging them about their laundry. [This may temporarily evoke smiles from your children.] Then, in that same cheery manner, let them know that it’s because you’ve decided that they are old enough now to entrust them with learning how to use the family washer and dryer for themselves. Offer to discuss their ideas, but ultimately end the conversation ensuring they know THEY are in charge of washing their laundry moving forward.
Be sure your children fully understand your expectations from here on out, with them in charge of getting laundry to and from their rooms. Have a clear expectation and hold your children to it. At our house, the expectation is quite simple:
When you leave this house, you will be wearing wrinkle-free, clean clothing.
That’s it. What happens behind the scenes to get them to meet that expectation is for them to worry about. Not me.
2. REALIZE LAUNDRY ISN’T AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS.
Laundry is sort of like riding a bike; it’s simple once you know how to do it, but explaining HOW to do it is a lot harder than you’d think. There’s a lot to know about doing laundry properly: sorting, settings, stains, picky clothing requirements, etc. The formula for how to complete the task truly varies depending on what you’re washing. So be prepared for LOTS of questions. (And for needing LOTS of patience.)
3. EXPECT MISTAKES.
Know there will be some laundry mistakes (and probably a little blame coming your way from the kids, too). There’s sure to be a morning when your son realizes he ruined his favorite shirt, or an afternoon when your daughter is missing her team jersey because it’s still in the laundry. Be prepared.
To ensure they take ownership of the blame, be ready to respond to these situations with an empathetic, “I’m sorry to hear that” vs. a smug “I told you that’s not my problem anymore” remark. The minute something snarky comes out of your mouth, you’re the bad guy. Using sincere, empathetic statements instead teaches kids responsibility and ownership of the task, while leaving you the good guy who’s always in their corner.
4. KNOW DIFFERENT ISN’T WRONG.
It’s also important to recognize that your kids approaching the chore differently doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong. Remember, one of the purposes of this transition is to be strategic about choosing your battles.
I admit, one of my pet peeves is a laundry basket full of clean clothes that have been shuffled around in search of a particular item and then left wrinkled and messy in the basket. I remind myself now, “I didn’t waste my time washing and folding those items, so… Let. It. Go.”
Even if that’s how they leave their basket, the girls still have to follow our family expectation:
When you leave this house, you will be wearing wrinkle-free, clean clothing.
TIP: A great tool for tweens to help with this is Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. My daughter pulls her rumpled shirt out of the basket, gives it a quick spray, and then tugs on it and smooths the wrinkles right out. She lays it flat on her bed to dry as she takes her morning shower. No ironing. No arguments. No problem.
5. TEACH ‘EM THE INs AND OUTs.
My recommendation is to do laundry together with your child for a good amount of time to ensure they’ve encountered a variety of situations as their baseline introduction. Be sure to let them know you’re always open to answer questions if they’re not sure about a particular situation. It is always better to ask first vs. ruining a favorite sweater.
Here are a few tween-specific laundry tips, learned from our house, that you might want to chat with your kids about too:
- Remember to check pockets before throwing pants in the washer. Nothing is worse than opening the dryer to a fresh mint smell and realizing you left a piece of sticky, bright green gum in your back pocket. (And don’t get me started on opening the washer to find shredded tissues all over a load of wet clothes!)
- Don’t overload the washing machine. It should be three-quarters full at max or the clothes simply don’t get clean.
- Delicates, swimsuits, and anything with rubbery writing or pictures on it are best air-dried.
- Clean the dryer lint trap out EVERY SINGLE TIME. (Not because I’m a neat freak, but because this is a very real fire hazard.)
- Stick with the energy-efficient low setting on the dryer to avoid issues with synthetic fabrics. Play it safe.
- To ensure clothing left in a dryer doesn’t get permanent wrinkles, use the “extra tumble” setting to allow the items to cool while still in motion.
Next, if you want to talk to your kids about how often to wash things, here are some tween-friendly general laundry-use guidelines.
*Please note, these suggestions will vary depending on how tight the garment fits to the body, the weather, and how long the item was worn. I like to joke with my girls and often suggest a simple “sniff test.” If it smells, it’s time to wash it. If not, hang the item up and give it a chance to air out before wearing it again.
If you think your kid is pushing it on wearing their jeans too many times before finally tossing them in the laundry, check out this college student who wore the same pair of jeans for a YEAR without washing them. (The study he participated in showed jeans won’t accumulate any more bacteria after 300 wears than 15.) [wink]
And even though experts say to wash bed sheets weekly, that may be a challenge to get kids to change them that often. If your kids need some motivation, have them watch a video on dust mites on YouTube. That should do the trick!
* * *
As I sit here, still somewhat ashamed, after sharing this embarrassing adult-tantrum story with you, I shake my head thinking about something Maria Montessori once said:
Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.
It’s easy to pass on simple chores to our kids when they’re young. Yet passing on a more complex chore like laundry, where mistakes can potentially be costly, is a lot harder than it sounds. But with the hustle and bustle of creating a new back-to-school routine right around the corner—it’s time, my friends. It’ s TIME.
Remember: Teaching your tween to do their own wash is not a punishment. It’s an important life lesson and an opportunity to empower your child to take charge of their own world.
My kids are doing their own laundry. Yours can too.
P.S. Again, a big thanks to Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus for sponsoring today’s post.
This easy-to-use wrinkle spray reduces wrinkles and helps keep our family’s clothes looking neat without the hassle of immediately hanging up our laundry (or ironing — Ha. What’s that?!?).
Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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