The very words “clean up” probably produce a deep sigh for most parents. Let’s face it- getting children to clean up is tricky. It’s fun to play with the toys, but who wants to put them away? Not me, that’s for sure.
A toddler is not going to clean up every mess perfectly, or always want to do it by themselves, hence why I have titled this getting a toddler to “help” clean up. Don’t expect miracles at such a young age. The goal is to encourage good habits, and the ways discussed below are done better when they’re done together- by you and your child. Because when we think about things long-term, what do we want to teach our kids?
Obvious lesson: That when you make a mess, you clean it up.
Not-so-obvious lesson: That when it isn’t your mess, it is kind if you still help clean up. If you help your child, they will inevitably help you when you spill something etc (because we’re not perfect either!)
Hidden lesson: Being a team player is a good thing.
So along with your help, I hope these suggestions will make the task of cleaning up a little easier in your home.
1. Model Cleaning Up For Them
Sadly, the words “You are just like your mother/father!” are true. And of course, a responsibility like cleaning up is something children need to see their parents doing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be discussed, they will just emulate what you’re doing. We forget that we are the biggest role models our children will ever have, so if we want to change their behavior, we need to start by looking at ours.
2. The “Clean Up” Song
I’m sure you’ve heard it, I’m sure you’re fed up of it, but singing a song while trying to fulfill a task does work with toddlers. And if it’s good enough for Barney, it’s good enough for the rest of us. His song was what got my little one to start helping clean up messes, and, although it happens rarely, I have heard her sing it when she is playing by herself and wants to put things away. But try to sing the song like it’s fun, and not like it is a chore. After a long day, I’m pretty sure I can hear my husband singing the song like he hates it. Toddlers are smart, they won’t buy it. If you don’t want to do it, why would they? And be consistent. Choose a song, and stick to it everyday. They may surprise you in a few days by singing it themselves.
3. Make It Into A Game
A friend of mine was recently over with her four year old son, and the kids had thrown around a large box of balls we have. When it was time for them to leave, his mom asked him to help clean up, and he said no. So her next words were “Okay, well how about you try and shoot all the balls into the box, like this?” and she threw a ball. Of course, turning it into a sort-of basketball game got his attention and got them all cleaned up. I was really surprised by the way she didn’t lecture him or say “No, you need to clean up right now.” She just thought of another way without a second thought. I have heard mothers say things such as “Let’s see who can get all the crayons in the box first- you or Mommy?” or “How do you think a monkey would put away their toys?”
4. Be Patient
Their little hands will go slower than your big hands, so try not to rush them, if possible. Otherwise, their thought process turns to “Mommy/Daddy never likes the way I do it, so why should I?” The long-term goal is to get them to clean up alone, so try to ignore the short-term wait for them to get it done.
5. Let Them Know In Advance That Soon It Will Be Time To Clean Up
Something I have learned with children is that giving them advanced notice works most of the time. Just the same way I like to tell my daughter before we get out of the car that if she runs around the mall, I will put her in the stroller, I let her know that after we’re done with the puzzle, we’re going to clean it up.There are no surprises, she knows exactly what’s expected and it’s usually done without whining. Usually.
6. Make Sure Your Child Is Fed/Napped/Not Tired
A child who is hungry is uncooperative. A child who hasn’t napped is even worse. And a child who is exhausted is probably crazy. As adults, we don’t like doing things on an empty stomach or when we’re exhausted either, so if your toddler is exhausted and fighting over clearing up, pick your battles- there’s no point arguing over something when what they really need is sleep. If they’re hungry, try giving a drink or snack and then getting back to it. Give yourself one too, I’m sure it will make the agony of cleaning up a little better ;)
What are your tips on getting a toddler to help clean? Share them with us in the comments below.