What age do I start teaching my child how to tidy up her toys? How do I even start and what happens when she does not want to help clean up? These are questions that we often hear when we are helping our families with strategies for their toddlers. Read on for some tips and information on how you can work through teaching your child the valuable skill and responsibility of clean up!
Before we can begin teaching your child to clean up, there are a few important tips to keep in mind to set them up for success:
- Have a place for everything so that your child can learn to put their things back in their place. A place for everything and everything in it’s place!
- Ensure clean up time is not too overwhelming by not having too many toys out at once. Nothing is more overwhelming than a floor covered in every toy they own! Even the adults wouldn’t know where to start cleaning up that mess!
- When there are too many toys out at once, children tend to have a hard time playing effectively with anything and they might just move from one toy to the next without any real quality play- so have them put away one set of toys before they take out another.
- Too many toys to clean up equals more tantrums when you even utter the words tidy up time!
Now let’s go through some age groups and what to start when:
The beginning phase of teaching babies to clean up is something you can start as young as 9 or 10 months old. You can even start earlier if your baby seems to watch and observe you a lot.
What to do at this age:
Start by modelling the behavior you want. They are watching you! When you are ready to move on from playing with toys to something else, tell them “we are going to clean up the toys now.” Then let them watch you clean up a few of their toys. Have a special bin that the toys go in. You can even give them one toy and encourage them to help you as well!
Toddler 14 months to 2 Years:
Sing a clean up song (like this one or this)- this helps them learn the routine and makes it fun.
Have them focus on one, 2 or 3 toys. Count with them as they do it. As your child gets older, add more toys.
You can guide them through the process as well. “Andres I would like you to find the cow and put it away right here.” have the bin out in front of them or you hold it.
You can also let them choose. “What toy would you like to pick up? The cow or the horse?” This gives them some control and a choice because toddlers crave control! Just make sure that the animals you are asking them to pick up are near and not somewhere hard to find. Otherwise, you will lose their focus.
What to do when they are resistant to clean up?
What happens when you are met with resistance? Because let’s face it- toddlers are not always uber compliant! This is one way you could deal with it:
“It is time to clean up the toys. You can do it by yourself or I will have to help you.” You can then count to 3 if they are not budging by then. After 3, you would make the choice for them. “1,2,3 okay. I am going to help you.” Then you approach them and hand over hand, help them pick up the toys.
Consistency is key! They might not care at first. But once you do this a few times, they will either clean up the first time or they will get moving when you start counting!
2-3 years old: Preschoolers and older children
As they get older, you can start to give them more responsibilities when it comes to tidying up and they can do more of it on their own.
Remember to keep the amount of toys out at one time to a minimum though! We are all guilty of this at some point but as they get older, it becomes harder to minimize the toys and stay on top of that. If they have many toys, put some away in storage and rotate them every week or two (or however long.) This keeps the toys new and exciting and then you won’t end up with too many out at once. You can also keep toys, especially those smaller toys that are more overwhelming to clean up, in bins with ‘locking’ lids that hopefully require your help to open up. Alternatively you can store some bins up on higher shelves requiring them to tidy up what they are done playing with before taking out a new box.
Older children who can read do well with charts and checklists. You can write them a checklist of a few tasks to clean and then send them on their way. Give them a pen or a sticker to mark the items that they have completed. You can modify this for preschoolers and younger school aged children who are not reading yet by giving them checklists with pictures instead of words. These types of activities can also become great learning experiences!
Without even knowing it you are teaching them language and classifying skills.
Set expectations for clean up time: “In 2 minutes we are going to clean up”. This way, your child is not totally thrown off guard when you say it is time to clean up. Setting expectations gives your child time to prepare to stop playtime and shift to clean up time.
You can have them help you hand over hand with just one toy. Or give them one toy and say “Can you help clean up? Put the toy away please!” Have the bin right under them so that it is easy and close for them to put the toy in.
You can occasionally incorporate some fun games to keep clean up simple for younger kids: such as finding all of the red toys and putting all of the red toys in one bin; Finding toys that begin with a particular letter (whatever letter you would choose.); Or just classifying farm animals in one bin, dinosaurs in the other etc. But since clean up is a daily responsibility, you don’t always have to make it into a game!
When it comes to teaching your child to clean up, you will be met with less resistance when tidying up is something you do on a regular basis, making it part of your regular playtime routine. Stay consistent with your child and they will become masters of clean up time!
If you find yourself needing a little help in your parenting journey, check out our online class: Parenting Program with Restful Parenting here.
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