Dear Bracha,

I am trying to prepare my home for the holiday of Passover but find time to be so scarce! I have three very young children who constantly need and want my attention and begin to act up when they sense that I am busy working on other things. Do you have any practical suggestions on how I can include my children in my holiday preparations?


You have asked a very timely question, and, on behalf of the many parents preparing for the Passover holidays, I thank you.

In preparation for my answer I would like you to keep in mind several concepts that are important ethical and personality traits that you wish to foster in your children, first and foremost being kibud av va'em, or respecting one's parents. The next trait a parent should keep in mind is helping the children acquire and master skills, versus helplessness.

What are you teaching your children if everything has to be done for them? Either that they are incapable or incompetent to do these things or that they are too important to do such work—but their parents aren't and should do it for them. Both these messages should be avoided at all costs.

To bring young children into cleaning for Passover or any other time requires your effort and patience. What you will get out of your effort is competent children!

How is this done? Children learn by doing; there is no other way, no short cut that will impress upon them or teach them what is necessary. They must do. And, at first, they must do it with you. They best way to teach children of a young age is to make things as concrete as possible for them. tarting off by having them help you clean their toys. All cleaning jobs must be done well enough to satisfy your needs. Do not waste their efforts as this devalues them, even if you think they will never know. Every human being is of worth and their efforts have worth.

Young children can help you shake off or vacuum plush toys. They can wipe down plastic or wood toys carefully under your guidance. Even though they are working with you to see your example and learn from you, you are not the major doer—you're the supervisor in this scenario. Put on music; know that things will take time. Make supper something simple and spend the extra time cleaning with your children.

With you helping your children to wipe, vacuum and clean, there is very little they cannot do. Your help should be as minimal as possible, mostly verbal instruction or helping to hold things while they clean. Give examples and assist them where necessary but only as necessary, just don't believe in any independence until they're older and have proven themselves. This avoids frustration or thinking that something will be done when it's not.

As your children get older, age 8 to 10, they should be cleaning their rooms as well. This detailed cleaning might involve a heavy vacuuming and dusting or a total disassembling of their room. Whatever your standards are, that is what they should do. You would break up the task into job portions that they will be able to accomplish, with your guidance. The first time they do their room, just like the first time they helped clean their toys, they will do it together with you, with them doing most of the work. Working side by side allows them to see your example and practice with instant feedback. Justifiable and specific praise is a must, as well as letting them have natural consequences. If their bed is not finished they may have to sleep in the hall or on the floor of their room. If time is growing short they may not have time to play with friends or play on the computer.

Keep the music going and things as positive as possible. Accentuate team work as the whole family is getting the house ready for Passover!

By the time your children are in their early teens they should be able to help out with any task that needs doing and as part of the family team, be assisting in the "common family" areas of the house. The only things that stand in the way of successes is a time schedule for when tasks are to be done by and consequences if not done on time. Your consistency is all that matters; never let a child wiggle out of a consequence or you will be enjoying cleaning your home by yourself, while they sit around with their feet up.

Very young children under the age of four will have to be entertained during the process of cleaning. They should be in the same room, if not napping. Sometimes one of the older siblings can play with them while another helps Mom clean, everyone taking turns between cleaning and play.

I recommend enjoying the successful completion of major goals by celebrating success together. A trip to the local candy store for a dollar or two worth of goodies is more than enough for a young child. When the entire house is done the family should celebrate together, with something everyone would enjoy such as going out for pizza.

Divide your tasks up and start early. You will be amazed at what your children are capable of!

Wishing you and your family a happy and Kosher Passover!