Keeping your children’s toys picked up can seem like a full time job. Although there are days when it can seem impossible, it is possible to teach your children to clean up their things themselves. Here are a few things I have learned over the last few years:
1. Have age appropriate expectations. A two year old might start by modeling your behavior as you put things in their places, but they are not ready to take on the job of cleaning up their toys. That’s ok, just give them positive reinforcement when they “help” you put things away.
2. As much as you can, have a specific place for everything. Before your kids may be ready to take on the task of picking up alone, they will be able to follow simple directions of putting each item in it’s place. Just be sure to give one set of instructions at a time and wait until they are done to give the next instructions. Totes, bins, baskets and traditional toy boxes are all good options.
3. Break it up into manageable pieces. My 5 year old recently had accumulated piles of paper everywhere. He is always drawing and writing, which is great, but having loose paper all over the place is not. When I told him we needed to get it picked up, he was “tired” and too hungry to work within a few minutes. I know looking at all that paper and contemplating picking up was exhausting for me, and it was for him too. I had him pick it up in small sections though, and before we knew it, it was done. Picking up the pieces in front of the TV, then the ones on the kitchen island, etc make it much more manageable.
4. Realize that each child has their own comfort level with untidiness, just as adults do, and be able to help them see how cleaning up helps them. Some things my sons are very particular about taking care of, other things they just don’t care, so I point out the benefits of cleaning up. The book my son couldn’t find the other day because it was buried under his pile of paper? That wouldn’t have been a problem if the papers were where they belonged.
5. Genuinely show gratitude when they help out with household chores. Don’t make it about how “good” they are being. Just let them know if it makes you happy that instead of cleaning, you can have time to relax together, because of their help. Everyone likes to be appreciated.
It will take many years for your children to become more independent at taking care of things, but if you are consistent about reminding them of the importance of being responsible, they will eventually learn, at least maybe by the time they move out and it is all their stuff they are taking care of. If not, well, at least they probably won’t live with you forever.
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