College: I refuse to raise the kid who can’t do their own laundry

I bet you’re teaching your kids responsibility, integrity, and compassion, not to mention, reading, writing, and arithmetic. That’s all well and good, but it is not the subject of today’s discussion. I want to talk about clothes—the dirty kind.

When I was a college freshman, the dormitory offered some tasty people watching. In particular, I was fascinated by the dorm’s laundry room.

I discovered three types of people: those who did their own laundry, those who were learning, and those who saved their dirty socks for their mother. I never once heard anyone say, “Dad will do my laundry when I get home.” That privilege was reserved for Dear Old Mom.

What’s the big deal with laundry?

Laundry represents those practical skills that a child needs to learn before they leave home. For me, it’s laundry, for you it could be cooking a meal, making a doctor’s appointment, or changing a flat tire.

Parents are busy and sometimes just don’t have the time to sweat the small stuff. But the “small stuff” is important. Otherwise, you’ve got a 20-year old who can’t shop for groceries, a 30-year old who can’t balance a checkbook, and a 40-year old who can’t, or won’t, move out of your basement.

How do you teach kids to do the little things?

It’s really a simple process, but it requires intentional parenting. Here are my three easy steps for teaching your kids to do stuff.

Step 1: Show your kids how stuff gets done. This is where you remove any illusion of a laundry fairy who swoops in to wash, dry, fluff, and fold. Don’t assume that your child understands the time and energy you put into maintaining a household. Let them shadow you for a day.

If you have to get the car serviced, your child sits in the waiting area. If you wash clothes, your child stands by the machine. For maximum value, turn off the television. With nothing but the sound of work filling the house, your child will really feel the full weight of your burden.

Step 2: Train your child to do stuff. It’s hard to imagine it, but there really was a time when you didn’t know how to polish the furniture or pay bills online. That is exactly the position your child is in. In Step 1, you showed them how stuff gets done. Now you want to set aside time for training. This does not have to be painful, in fact, catch your child at the right age and they’ll think washing dishes is fun.

Step 3: Practice doing more and more stuff. Chores are a great way to get your child on a regular schedule of doing stuff. The practical skills they learn will not only help you out, but they may also pick up skills that will help them in the future. For example, the seven-year-old who can sew a button may just end up a fashion designer.

Readers: What practical skills do you want your child to know before they graduate high school? What are your tips for teaching kids the “small stuff?”

8 Little things

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About Nicole Robinson

Nicole Robinson is a Dallas-based freelance writer who specializes in college planning, parenting, women’s lifestyle, education, and self-help. But she's always hungry to munch on new topics. In addition to writing for The BookWormMama blog, Nicole provides content, copywriting and proofreading services for various publications.


College: I refuse to raise the kid who can’t do their own laundry — 34 Comments

  1. I didn’t know how to do everything on that list when I graduated high school but I finally taught myself in college! I have been doing my own laundry since I was like 12 though :)

  2. AMEN! I work with a 28 year old guy that has no idea how to even turn a washer on, let alone to separate clothes, how much detergent to add, etc. He took notes one day to learn how to wash a load of jeans. UGH, drives me nuts!

  3. I should have taught all my children to do laundry. After having crayons, a copper hose head, and a tube of lipstick go through the wash…I didn’t let anyone else in the laundry room.

  4. This is a great post! I don’t have children as of yet, but I know one thing that they’ll be learning is how to do their own laundry. It amazes me how many people don’t know how to do this. I also want to make sure that they know how to cook so that they aren’t stuck having to go out to eat every day.
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  5. I feel so guilty for not getting my five year old to help around the house. To me it’s easier to do everything b y myself than to try to get her to help with anything. But she’ll be starting 1st grade and regarding that, I make sure she can do things like wiping her own bottom,zipping up her clothes, and this post is a real eye opener for what I’m lacking and what needs to change. I’m Jennice visiting from #SITSsharefest

    • I don’t yet have children, but I will be teaching them to do laundry at a youngish age (I was taught when I was in 4th grade or so and had the lucky privilege of doing the family’s laundry during school vacations when I was in middle school through college). And I agree with Autumn–teaching how to write a thank you note is an invaluable skill that I learned at a young age, and was a factor in helping me to get my last job :-) Happy Sharefest!
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  6. With 3 girls, there’s no way I’m doing their laundry. I hate doing laundry – probably because with 5, there’s so much to do!! You don’t have clean clothes? Oh well.. guess you’ll be doing laundry when you get home from school. The one I’m challenged with right now is consistent room cleanliness.. but they will learn this before they leave because I hated the sloppy roommates when I was in college. Stopping by from SITS!
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  7. This is awesome Nicole. I grew up poor so my had to invest that time in teaching me so that I could do it myself, while she worked…I’m glad she did, now as an adult and a three time college grad, I realize that those basic life skills will mean so much when you’re trying to live independently. But sometimes I think parents don’t want their children to know those things so they can always rely on them fulfilling their need to feel valued and avoiding the empty nest syndrome….just in my social work practice I’ve seen this. Any way Great post!

  8. Pingback: Saturday Sharefest: April 20 - The SITS Girls

  9. My daughter is almost 7 and she makes her bed every morning, folds towels and helps me cook and clean the house sometimes. She wants to help so I take the opportunity to teach her little things. Once I saw how good she could fold a towel, there was no turning back!

  10. So funny – as I’m reading your blog my 14 year old son just put his dirty laundry in the washer. Success!

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