With your family spending more time at home, it may seem like the messes are endless. While having toys and activities scattered around the house is often a part of a child’s play, cleaning up doesn’t just have to be just a grownup responsibility.

By 3 or 4 years old, most children have the ability to do some cleaning up after themselves. With guidance and encouragement, your child can learn to look after their things and help put their things away.

Fools for fun

One surefire way to get young children interested in cleaning up is to make it fun. Here are some ideas for making cleaning fun rather than a chore.

  • Beat the buzzer: Set a timer and see whether the toys can be put away before the buzzer goes off.
  • Listen to music: Use upbeat music to lighten the mood and encourage movement. Dance as you put the toys away!
  • Make it a competition: Who can put the most blocks away first? Count them as you put them in the bin, or put them in by color.
  • Sing songs about cleaning up. You could sing “The Clean Up Song,” or make up your own lyrics.
  • Frame cleaning up in a positive way. “After we clean up the tea set, we can have a snack.”
  • Put the toys “to sleep”: Some preschoolers get a kick out of putting their toys to sleep on a shelf or special place in their room.

Some families have found success with teaching their child to put one activity away before getting another one out to play with. “When you put away the blocks, we can play dress up.” This will cut down on the time clean up takes at the end of the day, but it does require you to set the expectation and be consistent with follow up. If you can, begin when your child is around two years old, when they want so much to be a helper and do everything themselves, you will be on your way!

Make it simple

It is good practice to make your child’s clean up duties simple and easy. Here are some tips for making clean up time easier on your child:

  • Store toys so they are easy to get to and put away. When possible, store your toys on low, open shelves or in boxes without lids.
  • Create a place for everything. Have a bin for dinosaurs, a shelf for board games, etc. Use labels or stickers, or a color-coding system to note where everything goes. You could even take a picture of what the shelf looks like when it’s put away, and tape it above or below the shelf.
  • Give a 5 minute warning. When it is nearly time to clean up, tell your child that they will have to finish their activity and store their things away in a few minutes. Give one more prompt if necessary. Wait 5 to 10 seconds to see whether your child starts to clean up. If they do not, give them instructions on how to get started: “First, put all the caps back on your markers. Once that’s done, let’s put all the markers back in their box.”
  • Break big jobs into smaller tasks. If your child seems overwhelmed by the task, find a way to simplify it for them. For example, “How about I help put the caps on the markers, and you can put the markers into the box?
  • Be specific with your language. Instead of “please clean up your toys,” you could say, “please put your blocks in the bin, and your books on the shelf.”

Lead by example

Children are great imitators. Your child is going to look to you for guidance on everything—including cleaning habits. You can show your child how to take care of their belongings by setting a good example. Let your child watch you clean up after yourself and explain what you are doing as you go along. When you spill something, talk through cleaning it up. When your child spills, let them learn to clean it up. Talk about why cleaning up and caring for your things and home is important. Eventually, cleaning up after themselves will become second nature to them because your expectation has been internalized. In addition, praising your child for helping can also help to further their motivation for helping care for their home.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org


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