How to Get Toddlers to Clean Up

child in a garbage canTips to Help Kids Tidy Their Toys

Tired of picking up toys scattered around the house by little ones? Toddlers can learn to clean up after themselves. The key is to make them feel “all grown up” and have fun with helping around the house.

It’s never too early to help kids learn about cleaning up. Here are some ideas to help teach kids how to put away their toys and get involved in other simple chores.

Start Kids Early With Cleaning Up

You often hear parents complain about how their kids never pick up after themselves. The trick? Train them early, so they don’t know any different. As soon as they can toddle they can be introduced to cleaning up. Now, I’m not saying they will be vacuuming the floors and doing the dishes (that would be some YouTube video), but they can do their small share towards the never-ending goal of household cleanliness.

Toddlers Like to Do What Adults Do

child on cell phoneThey are watching you.

Children watch their parents and want to do what you are doing. Mom and dad are holding the new baby, why you will see a toddler holding a baby doll in the same fashion. Kids clomp around in their parents’ shoes, love to talk on cellphones, lipstick their faces (and the walls) and fill the toilet with a mountain of toilet paper – all in an attempt to do what they see their parents doing, but in their own creative fashion. We want to channel this enthusiasm.

Start Small

Toddlerhood is a wonderful time to encourage kids to help with cleaning. Whenever a parent is cleaning up or doing household chores, see if there is a way to include the toddler. For example, when you are putting groceries away, let the child put away light boxes and small cans. Show them how to stack them. When you set the table, let them carry napkins or cutlery. Show them where they would go at the table. Show and explain everything step-by-small-step for kids.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

We learn by repetition. Kids learn by repetition. A whole lot of it.

Parents need to be patient and prepared to provide numerous demonstrations and help them in the process. You need to be ready for dropped cans and spilled water. The idea is not to expect toddlers to do chores up to adult standards. The idea is to make them feel good and part of the household by doing chores with the family. This part is important because that’s what will make them want to keep doing it.

Praise Kids for Helping Out

A key aspect of getting young kids to help around the house with cleaning and chores, is to acknowledge their effort. While the child is helping put away the groceries, chat with them about the food being put away. Give them as much attention as you can and praise them for helping.

For example, if a parent is husking corn or peeling oranges, let the child try to do it. If it’s getting too hard, let them help out another way like putting the peels in the compost container. Talk about how good the food will taste when everyone eats together. When you are having lunch, make sure to say how the child helped out and to thank them in front of the family. Who doesn’t like to hear good things about themselves?

paint heart on an orangeMake Chores as Exciting as Tom Sawyer Made Painting

When you are doing your chores, remember your kids are watching. You don’t want to be screaming about how you hate laundry (even if this is true, we’ll keep that as our inside voice). You want to have a positive attitude about the daily duties of the household. You want to show that it’s an enjoyable task and an opportunity for socializing. Be inspired by Tom Sawyer painting for his Aunt Polly. You could have a whole neighborhood of toddlers wanting to help you out if you make cleaning up seem like the very best thing ever!

Make Clean Up Fun for Young Kids        

boy in Lego boxWhen doing chores, make it fun and games for kids where you can. For example, if it is time to put laundry in the hamper, make it a throwing game. See how many pieces of dirty laundry can get thrown into the laundry basket or hamper. Parents should join in themselves so it’s a family event. Laugh, clap and cheer when anyone gets clothes in the basket.

Not only does this work on hand-eye coordination for young ones, but making cleaning up a game can help with clean up of all sorts of things around the house from building blocks to shoes.

Have an Organized Routine for Clean Up

Having a set routine where clean up is part of ending an activity is a great habit to get kids into. When a play activity is ending, let kids know ahead of time that it will soon be time to put the toys away. Give them a five-minute warning and then two-minute notice. Then when it is time for clean up, let the kids know and help them with the process. Make clean up part of the routine when doing any play or art activity.

Use a Clean Up Song to Cue Kids to Start Cleaning

It’s also a good idea when it is time to clean up to have a clean-up rhyme or song. A popular song to sing is the following:

Clean up, Clean up

Everybody everywhere

Clean up, Clean up

Time for us to do our share

Keep repeating the song until everything is all cleaned up. As kids become familiar with the song, they will hum or sing along. They will know what to do when you start singing the song. Or check out this video, they will start cleaning up on their own when they sing the song.

Toddlers Can Learn to Clean

Toddlers are at stage of development where they are open to the idea of cleaning up – particularly if you make it enjoyable. Get them to help you with simple chores and make it a fun and social process. Make cleaning into a game and praise them for their participation. Have an organized routine so they know clean up is part of daily life. Life is messy, so enjoy cleaning it up together – one day at a time.

Nobody’s Perfect Program for Parents

Nobody’s Perfect Parenting Program

Looking to tune up your parenting skills or get some support on a parenting issue? If you are a parent of young kids in BC, you might want to check out a Nobody’s Perfect parenting program. Nobody’s Perfect is a free, helpful and fun way to improve your parenting skills, meet other parents and have a little break from the kids.

dad and son Free Parenting Program

This free program is for parents who have kids ages zero to five-years-old and it’s offered in communities throughout British Columbia. Knowing how hard it can be to have a discussion surrounded by a flock of children, free babysitting is offered. There are also free drinks and snacks offered for both the parents and the kids. As well, if you need help with getting to the program, you can talk with organizers about transportation options as well.

Share and Discuss Parenting Issues

Being a parent can be stressful sometimes, your life can revolve around the kids and it can be hard to get some time to yourself to think about this important job that you do. The nice thing about Nobody’s Perfect is that you have space to relax, think and speak about how life with the kids is going for you. You also get to meet other parents who have kids the same age and can relate to your trials and triumphs.

If you have any questions or burning issues you are dealing with, this is a great time to talk about it and get feedback and ideas. Let’s say you are having toilet training issues with your three-year-old, you can ask the other parents and facilitators about their experience and any advice they have. On the flip side, if you are doing something well or have come up with a creative way to get kids to eat vegetables, you can share this with other parents.

Nobody’s Perfect Facilitators

Two people facilitate the meetings, meaning they provide structure and activities for discussion, but there is a lot of room for parents to interact and talk about immediate issues they are facing. The facilitators are usually parents themselves, so they have firsthand experience and empathy for parents who are taking part in the program. They also offer information on the developmental stages for kids and the kind of behavior and health issues that can come up at each stage.

mom and daughterTime Commitment for Parenting Program

Nobody’s Perfect runs from six to eight weeks and groups usually meet once a week for about two-and-a-half hours. There can sometimes be waitlists for the program, depending on the area where you live, so you may want to phone ahead if you are interested. For this reason, before you sign up, a commitment to coming to most of the sessions is often expected.

Where to Find Nobody’s Perfect

Talk to or visit with staff at your local community centre or neighborhood family place to find out if they offer this program or if they know where it is being offered. Another option is to go online to the BC Council for Families and go to the Program Locator section. You can type in “Nobody’s Perfect” in the Program slot and then add in your city or town.

Nobody’s Perfect parenting program is a free program offered in towns and cities across BC. It’s geared for parents with kids from the age of zero to five and it’s a great way to improve your parenting skills, share ideas with other parents and have coffee and cake without the kids.

Pippi Longstocking Parenting

Pippi Longstocking Parenting

Pippi Longstocking Parenting


I owe Pippi Longstocking for more than my love of long striped socks and over-sized boots. What I remember best about this red-headed wonder child — more than her eccentric fashion, super strength and gold stockpile – was her epic fibbing. Now as a parent, Astrid Lindgren’s famous character inspires me to tell tall tales to my kids in everyday life. I’m a constant liar!

How to Be a Good Parent?

Especially when my children were young and tottering about, I had days where I wondered if I had what it took to be a parent. There was a lot of conflict, crying and screaming of “NO! NO! NO!” – and that was from all of us. I searched constantly online, joined parenting groups and read books about raising kids; I was so very serious about being a good mom and doing the right thing. But there were so many resources, so many different schools of thought and so many different pieces of advice being offered out. Which way was the right way? And the bigger question, would I be able to remember the advice during stressful times?

Be the Bigger Person, Remember What it’s Like to Be the Smaller Person

Then, during a parenting class (Nobody’s Perfect, I totally recommend it), we did an exercise where I had to find a symbol to help me stay positive in difficult moments. I had to find a way to overcome my uptightness and anger. I needed to be the bigger person, and sometimes that means remembering what it’s like to be a smaller person. Pippi cart-wheeled into my head and whispered, ”You don’t have to be so by-the-book. Skip school and make your own rules! Find the joy in the everyday and get creative when things aren’t going your way.” So I did.

Creative Storytelling in Everyday Life

Instead of trying to battle a toothbrush into my toddler’s mouth, I told him about sugar bugs. I told him these little critters carry shovels and like to dig holes and tunnels in teeth. Magically, his mouth opened wide.

When he was scared to sleep at night, instead of saying “There are no monsters in your room, go to sleep,” I told him about the monster police. They patrol 24/7, picking up monsters who should be sleeping. They take them home to their monster parents where they are tucked into their monster beds. The monster police look under beds and under closets until every monster is put to bed. My son snuggled into bed feeling safer.

Finding Balance in Parenting with Pippi

I have found on-the-spot creative lying lightens tense moments, stops tears and brings us closer together. Now it’s not all springy red pigtails and all the candy we can eat at the candy shop, but it’s finding the balance and remembering the spunky verbal spontaneity of my childhood heroine. She made fibbing fantastically fun and embodies the magical wishful-thinking I had as a child, and hope to hold on to as a grown up. When times are tough, I bring on the Pippi Power and hopefully bring a little Pippi peppy magic into the lives of everyone in my family.

Check back for future posts where I’ll offer up some of my creative storytelling ideas for kids.