How to Get Your Toddler to Clean Up after Play
Before you went to bed at night, you spent your precious alone-time picking up all the toys on the ground and organizing them into bins. After getting some beauty sleep that lasted a total of 3 hours, you woke up to a glorious morning of … OH MY GOSH did a bomb just went off in your house? All the carefully organized toys are now back on the ground, creating a toy minefield that is impossible to walk through without some major foot injuries. Are you destined to this “Groundhog Day effect” of cleaning up just to have all the toys tossed out within moments of your kids opening their eyes in the morning? Or perhaps … you can actually have your kids clean up their own toys?
If your kids are anything like mine, a simple “please clean up your toys” will not suffice. They may start putting a couple of toys away, giving you a glimmer of hope. However, within minutes their eyes will catch another toy they have not taken out yet and then all hope is gone. Therefore, the secret to getting your child to clean up is 3-fold:
Your child may be motivated by food. Maybe money in the piggy bank. However, there is one thing that motivates ALL children, and that is … drum roll please … FUN!!! All children want to do is have fun. Therefore, make a game out of cleaning up and watch your child’s face light up!
Toddlers have short attention spans. Even if you get them to start pick up toys, chances are they are going to abandon their duties if it takes too long. Even if you do make a game out of it, a game that is taking too long to complete will eventually cause them to lose their attention or they will figure out the game was to just to get them to clean up.
I know what you are thinking – I have to get my kids a reward just for picking up their toys? Doesn’t that just create more toys to clean up later? I am not talking about a physical reward here, although you can make a medal for the winner or give your kids a sticker for cleaning up. However, for my kids, being able to claim the title of the winner and receiving tons of positive praises for cleaning up is rewarding enough.
Fun Cleaning Games
Here are some fun cleaning games you can do with your kids to get them moving!
- Race Each Other: Race your child to see who can pick up all the toys first. You can assign your child a category (e.g., Legos) while you clean up another category of toys (e.g., train tracks). Compete to see who can finish getting everything off the floor first! If you have multiple kids, they can also race each other while you take a well-deserved break.
- Race the Timer: Set the kitchen timer or the timer on your phone for 1-5 minutes (depending on how many toys are on the ground). Have your child race the timer to see if he/she can clean up before the timer goes off. You can act as a cheerleader on the sideline or pitch in to help if your child is having trouble.
- Race the Mom: Have other chores to complete around the house? Or maybe you really need to take a bio-break badly. Play the game of “how many toys can you put away while mommy does x” to kill two birds with one stone! For example, compete with your child to see who can finish first, you wash all the dishes in the sink or him/her put away the toys. This works too if you need to go to the bathroom or even go take a quick shower (provided that your kids are old enough that they don’t need constant supervision). If everything works out the way you intended, this may be the most productive #2 ever.
- Race the Song: Everything is more fun with music! Turn on a familiar song and encourage your child to pick up as many toys as possible before the music stops. Our current favorite songs are pretty much anything off the Frozen and Moana soundtracks. Surprised?
The fun games take care of the motivation, and the race component takes care of the speed. How about the reward? Guess what? I bet your kid is happy enough that you are playing a game with him/her that the game is a reward by itself. However, you can always make it more fun! For example, I joke around during the race and “accidentally” step on a Lego block and hop around goofily. Or I egg on my kids and shout, “Wait a minute … how are you almost done? AHHH no! I can’t let you win!” You will know from all the giggles and laughter that they are LOVING cleaning up. Also, don’t forget to shower your kids with praises for picking up their toys. Not only applaud the act of cleaning up, but also compliment your kids on how they took responsibility for their toys.
Do you have to play a game every time you want your kids to clean up? In the beginning, probably. However, consistency is key, and eventually your kids will learn the routine of cleaning up after they play. Before you know it, they will be the ones who are reminding you that they need to pick up their toys before going to the park. Really. I have seen it happen before my own very eyes. It can be done!