Tips for Toddler Clean Up

I could hear her talking to herself, reading quietly in her room. She moved on to her next toy, then after about five minutes she moved on to a different toy, so on and so forth. I didn’t want to interrupt. I didn’t want to be the one to cause her imagination to come to a halt. After all, I would much rather her play nicely in her room, than have her watching TV.

As much as I love having her play, I can’t help but get anxious at the same time. Because after playtime, that means clean up time. It looked as if a bomb had just gone off in her room in a matter of seconds. Five minutes ago it was perfectly clean and organized. And now, I can only imagine how long it’s going to take her to clean up.

It’s a hard balance. Do you put up a fight and make your child clean up after they are done playing? Or do you give in and do it for them, because it would be much easier and much faster that way?

It doesn’t have to be a struggle, and it doesn’t have to be a war with your toddler. With some simple tips, clean up wont be an anxious worry anymore. In fact, you can make it quite fun!

Stay with them and help direct:

Telling toddlers to “clean your room” is like talking to a brick wall. They don’t know where to get started, and if this is their first time, they won’t know where things go quite yet. Yes, I know they made the mess, and they pulled all their toys out, but help them the first couple weeks or so. Don’t do it for them, but be there directing and helping. Do it together! Stay in the room with them until it is complete. Eventually they will get the hang of it, and won’t need you there anymore, because they will know where everything goes!

Blast some fun music:

Clean up time doesn’t have to be a serious and boring event. We like to play the Disney station on Pandora, and listen and sing to music as we clean. Create a fun environment, one that they want to be apart of and enjoy. Soon, they will become distracted and clean up without even knowing it. When you clean your house, do you feel more motivated with music playing in the background as you sing along? The same goes for toddlers. Help motivate them with some fun, uplifting music.

Set a time limit:

Often times, when my toddler starts cleaning, she gets easily distracted with all the toys around her, that instead of picking up, she continues to play. If your toddler is at the stage where you don’t need to be in the same room as they clean, tell them they have 10-to-15 minutes to clean, and come in every once in a while and remind them. If you believe in bribery (or even if you don’t) maybe you could say, “when you’re finished cleaning we can go to the park!” or “when you’re finished cleaning, why don’t we read stories together?” or if you’re really into bribery, bribe them with a fun little treat, but ONLY if they cooperate, don’t throw a fit, and do what is asked. Try fruit snacks, M&M’s, popsicles, popcorn, or a cookie. I believe that if they made the mess, they shouldn’t be rewarded for cleaning up after themselves. However, these are toddlers we are talking about. Keep it simple. They don’t understand the “why” behind why they have the clean. They just think we, as parents, are bossy. So if a fruit snack after they help works for you, then I say go for it!

Praise them:

When they are finished cleaning, praise their hard work and acknowledge that what they did was hard, but look what they accomplished. I believe this teaches them that they can do hard things, and that it feels good to do something hard. Make this a big deal. Say things like, “I am so proud of you!” “Look what you did ALL BY YOURSELF!” “I knew you could do it!” “Way to go!” Give high fives, lots of hugs, etc. This will help your toddler feel acknowledged and special. As they get older, you can probably slow this down, but for a start, praise goes a long way. Before you know it, your toddlers will be cleaning their room all by themselves. Without a fight and without an argument. It becomes habit. I can leave my three-year old in her room, let her imagination soar, without feeling anxious about the clean up process. She can do it by herself, without me in there. And that bomb that just went off will soon go back to its proper place — until the next day.