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.

By Miki Dare

writer and artist