Why I Don’t “Just Leave The Dishes” To Play With My Kids

We have heard or read the advice ‘the dishes can wait, play with your children instead.”

And to be honest I have said it in the past.

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But is it really in your child’s best interest to be in a messy house, but with lots of play time with their parents?

I’d like to argue that no. The dishes or cleaning can’t wait.

Of course every once in awhile leaving the dishes to finish a game or get them started with an activity is just fine, but most of the time the benefits of tidying up right away may be more beneficial than leaving them to pile up for hours.

Below are my reasons why.

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1. Respect

Cleaning teaches kids to take care of their possessions.

If your house isn’t taken care of and stuff is everywhere you are sending the message that you don’t care about your things, you don’t respect your house or take pride in your belongings and that messy is ok.

So when your child throws their toy or refuses to clean up you can’t show them how you take care of your things and how you keep things tidy.

There is no example for them to see how keeping things clean and organized can ensure things don’t get broken or lost.

Cleaning up right away after dinner and putting things in their place will help you later in getting them to clean up the playroom after they are done or putting their boots where they belong because they see you doing the same thing with your stuff.

2.  Gender Equality

Cleaning up teaches children about splitting household duties.

It’s very important for children to see both male and female role models cleaning and cooking and doing other household tasks.

It sends the message that men and women have equal responsibilities and are capable of doing the same things.

So ensure dad does the dishes in front of the kids too.


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3.  Patience

Waiting until the kitchen is clean again before you can play with them teaches them about patience.

They can’t always get what they want right away.

It’s also an opportunity to say ‘if you help me we can go play together sooner’.

Then give them age appropriate tasks to do (put dishes away, wipe the table, sweep the floor, etc).

You can pick up this little cleaning set from Melissa and Doug on Amazon and let them sweep or dust with you.

If I pull out my broom my daughter runs for hers now.

4.  Independence

Staying in the kitchen to clean up when they play teaches them to play on their own

If you have a cling-on who just won’t play unless you’re in the room (my daughter is my little shadow!).

Then set them up with coloring or play dough while you clean up the kitchen.

This is the first step in getting them to play independently.

Then when you’re done go join them and praise them for starting to play xyz on their own.

5.  Proper Hygiene and Food Safety

If you make dinner and run, leaving a pile of dirty dishes and food left out you run the risk of getting sick and attracting bugs or other creatures.

It also doesn’t teach kids that ‘milk needs to go back in the fridge right away’.

Or ‘dishes go in the dishwasher when you’re done’.

Teach them early about being safe in the kitchen.


Of course there are exceptions and everyone’s situation is different.

For example if I get home late from work and my options are play with my kids or do the dishes – the kids win every time.

If my husband is away and I’m managing two little ones and bedtime alone, dishes might wait a little longer than normal.

If you’re alone, exhausted, haven’t seen your kids today, etc. Yes, dishes can wait. But if you have the time the reasons above make a case for focusing on chores first.


Having a messy house is part of the ‘fun’ of having kids. It’s amazing how quickly they can tear apart a room and the next and the next.

I play with my kids and try to maintain a clean house the best I can during the day – we ALL benefit from the balance.

Agree with me? Disagree? Let me know below!


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