Do you know any 4-year olds who love to clean up?
Neither do I. But I did go to high school with a boy whose mother swore that he was fastidious as a toddler. Unfortunately he abandoned that habit in his teenage years and his room was a disaster. 🙂
If you’re dealing with kids who don’t believe in putting things away, read on.
First things first: Most kids aren’t born neat.
Sure, there’s the toddler who, as rare as a four-leaf clover, who loves to keep his things neat and orderly. These unusual children should be encouraged and appreciated for their uniqueness. The other 98% of the population will need help learning how to clean up.
Here’s how to nudge your kids toward neatness:
1. Have two clean up times everyday.
Some ideas when to do this:
- after breakfast
- before school starts
- before dinner
- before bedtime
Pick a time twice a day where your child picks up his or her toys. This time should be short – 5 to 10 minutes. You want to build that into the routine of your day.
You can set an alarm on your phone if you like (I love using alarms for this kind of thing). Just make your announcement in a no nonsense way. “Okay! It’s time to tidy up!”
All kids do this at school and they can do it at home, too.
2. Start building good habits.
You can start this as early as 12 months old. Kids can learn to clear their dishes from the table and throw away their own trash. (Why is it that Mom is always the receptacle for dirty tissues? Turn them around and point them toward the waste basket.)
Little ones can learn to put toys back in a basket or on a shelf. They can put their dirty laundry in a hamper. Your 3 year old can help to empty the dishwasher. Seriously!
There are a million different habits you can start building with your kids. The sooner you work on them easier it’s going to be and the less pushback you’re going to get.
3. Cut waaaaaay back on the toys.
Everybody jokes that some kids can keep themselves entertained for hours with an empty box (that is maybe until iPads were invented – sigh).
But still I think it’s easy to see that kids don’t need an avalanche of toys. The more toys you have the bigger the possibility of a mess!
You can probably easily put away at least half of half the toys in your home without your kids even noticing or caring. They might even thank you that now they have more room to play and less work to clean up.
Here’s how we declutter toys in our home (you can do it!)
What if your kid resists your efforts?
First off you start slow.
Don’t overwhelm them with 100 new requests. Pick one or two things to do today and work on that for a week. Break it down for them if they don’t know how to do what you’re asking. Then pick a new thing.
Also remember that habits aren’t built overnight.
It’s okay if it takes awhile for your child to become comfortable with his new tasks. Just keep directing and encouraging with a smile on your face. Plenty of kids (mine especially) believe if they ignore you long enough, you’ll give up. Don’t be fooled! They will eventually see that Mom means business.
Sometimes parents make the mistake of doing everything themselves.
It takes 10 times longer to require your kid to do a task. This morning we frosted cupcakes for my son’s preschool birthday party. My son wanted to frost some himself. It took longer and made more of a mess. But he was totally invested and so we took the time. He was so proud of himself!
It’s the same with other jobs.
Kids are going to make messes. They’re going to drop dishes on the way to the dishwasher. They’re not going to clean as thoroughly as you would.
But it’s all training!
Moms, this is a huge investment that you’re making in your OWN future (and theirs)! This investment will pay off in time with less work for you.
So encourage your kids! Don’t let them see you redo their work. Thank them for their help and make a big deal when they make an effort or do something without being asked. Little kids love it when you talk them up.
Some kids love drama.
They’ll make a huge deal over the smallest things. One of my kids (who shall remain nameless) threw a fit when I asked him to stir the jam into his unsweetened yogurt. This was the end of the world for this kid. It was just too hard. Apparently I had been stirring his yogurt for too long.
Once I realized this I handed him his bowl and let him deal with it. I told him, “I’m sure you can do it!” and then I walked away. He figured it out. He’s now a very competent yogurt stir-er #proudmom.
The point is that some kids are going are going to pitch a fit. They’re going to throw themselves on the floor and declare that you are the worst mom in the world for making them clear the table. Congratulations! That means you’re doing a good job!
So don’t be surprised when the drama comes.
Go about your business. The kids will adapt. They may actually start to feel pretty good about being trusted with new responsibilities.
So remember kids aren’t born with these skills. You’ve got to help them develop good habits and teach them how to clean up. Most kids don’t have the tidy gene but that doesn’t mean you can’t guide them in the right direction.
Your house and your sanity will benefit as a result.
Printable cleaning checklists for older kids:
But you don’t even need checklists!
A really simple way to do it is just to have them work alongside you. Give them jobs as you go. Make it light, make it fun, and make it quick. Don’t give in! This is part of your job as a parent and don’t let your kid tell you otherwise.
This approach needs some modifying for older kids and teens.
For older kids, you’re going to need a different strategy. Stay tuned for a future post on teaching teens to clean up.