I've been an online writer for over eight years. I'm an early childhood specialist who often writes about DIY home projects.
How Do I Teach My Kids to Clean Up After Themselves? (5 Steps)
The battle between a clean home and the child's desire to have fun has been going on for ages. So, what can you do to keep your house clean when you have efficient mess makers running amuck? Those wild little tornadoes (that seem to be able to undo your hard work in a fraction of the time it took you to get it all put back together) are experts at pressing your cleaning nerve.
Need help? Look no further. Help is here! With these fabulous tips and tricks, you'll not only have a cleaner house, but you'll also have helpers to keep it that way!
Step 1: Get Organized!
Step 1: Get Your Toy Storage Organized!
When a child knows where things go they are more likely to put it back! The easiest way to do this is by separating your toys into sections. Keep your child's toys on shelves or in bins to help with this. You could just shove everything in a big toy box or stuff it all under the bed, but that wouldn't help keep your child's toys in good working order or prevent them from being lost or broken.
Label your shelves and/or totes clearly with what belongs in (or on) them. You can clip pictures from magazines, print some off the computer, or draw your own. As long as your child can identify what the picture is and it matches. For an educational bonus, print or type the words to go under the picture. This will help with word recognition.
Examples of easy-to-understand shelf or bin labels:
By placing a photo of the toy type for each bin, your child can look and identify where it goes. There is no overwhelming confusion. Your child will know exactly where the toy goes when it is done being played with.
Step 2: Create Playtime Rules
One of the best rules that parents can learn from school, preschool, or daycare environments is the "one toy at a time" rule. Clear and simple: You play with one toy at a time, put it away before you take out a new one.
This is a tricky one to get started, especially if it's new to you and your child. The argument may (or should I say will) come up "But, I want to play with my dolls and my ponies" or "But I want to play with my cars and my blocks." It's perfectly acceptable to let your child play with more than one thing at a time, as long as he/she knows that before any new toys come out, those ones get put back.
It is a shift between the "dump and run" style of playing, to a more organized style. By picking up the toys they are finished with before taking out new ones, there is more room for them to keep playing and having fun!
Step 3: Make Cleaning Up a Game!
When it's time to clean up it doesn't have to be the end of the fun. In fact, the more fun cleaning up is, the more often your child will want to do it. You might even catch your child cleaning when you didn't even ask! Why? Because it isn't a "chore" anymore, it's a game!
When cleaning up blocks you could try things like:
- Can you find all of the red ones first? Great! Now, how about all of the yellow ones?
- How many blocks can you pick up before I finish singing the ABCs? Ready, set, go!
- I see four blue blocks, can you find all four of them?
- Let's find all of the square blocks first! Can you find any square blocks?
- I'm going to close my eyes and count to 10, I bet you can't find 10 blocks before I'm finished counting. Ready, set, go! You did it! Let's do it again and see how many you find this time.
Step 4: Make a Declutter Checklist for the Kids
Create a checklist for your child so they know exactly what is expected of them when you utter the ultra scary, overwhelming words... "Clean your room."
Checklists are a great way to help your child succeed in cleaning up after themselves. They can gauge their progress with each little check or X they put on the finished tasks. It also gives them the freedom to decide which thing they want to do first or last.
Checklists are very empowering little buggers. Kids love them (parents do too).
Step 5: Expand the Chore Horizon
Getting your child to help pick up his/her own toys or room is just the beginning! Don't limit yourself. Children love to pitch in and help around the house when it is presented in a fun manner. Get creative.
For chores around the house (other than their bedroom or playroom) try these nifty little ideas:
- Put chores on small pieces of paper and let them draw it out of a hat or bag.
- Create a reward chart so they can work toward earning a special privilege.
- Have the sink ready with hot, soapy water so they can wash their dishes after finishing a meal (or rinse it off so it can go in the dishwasher).
- Make an apron with their name on it that they can wear while cleaning. Dress up is fun!
- Have a race to see who can finish their chore first.
- Put on some fun music; dance and sing while doing chores together.
The possibilities are endless. The key ingredient to getting any child to want to help clean and/or pick up after themselves is to have fun.
Extra (Sneaky) Tidying Trick for Kids
Children have fantastic imaginations and love to play make-believe games. You can use this to your advantage. After you've finished getting any room in the house just the way you want it, tell the kids you're playing a game.
Play Make-Believe to Clean Up
The goal of the game is to keep the room as clean as possible for as long as possible. If you mess the room up, you lose. If you keep the room clean for the rest of the day, you win!
Pretend that you're royalty. Encourage the kids to dress up if they like doing that sort of thing. You're in a palace and you're awaiting the arrival of a very important guest who judges castles! You really want to win the judging contest.
Now, the kids are all in on this game. They are walking around with their pinkies in the air, talking in goofy accents, pretending to be snooty princesses and/or princes. Slip away and change into something ridiculous. Put on your best snooty voice and announce that you are the judge who has come to look at the palace.
If there are things that are out of place, say, "Oh, my my, I'm not sure about this. Prince Hawkaloogy had all of his books on the shelf facing the same way." Scribble something down in your imaginary notebook. (The kids will probably rush over to straighten the books).
Give a little sniff with your nose in the air, "No, no, no, this will never do. Princess Iwannasingasong had all of her couch pillows fluffed. Yes, they were very fluffy indeed."
Make Cleaning a Contest
At the end of the "judging" announce that you've made your decision and that this castle is by far the cleanest, most delightful one you've visited and that it has the most enchanting children you've ever met. Excuse yourself and return as yourself, then ask how the judging went.
Ask the kids if they will tell you about it over "tea"—which could be anything you want to serve as a snack... They will love it!
- How to Keep Your House Clean When You Have Children
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- Decluttering Tips for Overwhelmed Parents
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- Why Teenage Girls Never Clean Their Messy Rooms
Need some insight into why you just can't get your teenage daughter to clean her room? I can offer some explanation as to why teenage girls have such messy rooms.
- Help Your Child Succeed With A Clean Room Checklist
When a child looks at a big mess, they have a difficult time breaking it down into smaller, more achievable goals. All they see is this one, huge, insurmountable task that leaves them feeling that it's just too much.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Louise89 on June 26, 2019:
Great information, thanks!
Kat (author) from USA on October 22, 2012:
You're so right Lipnancy :)
Even naturally messy or unorganized people have to admit that a cleaner environment just feels better. It relaxes the mind & body when you have a clean space.
Thanks for stopping by & commenting!
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on October 22, 2012:
Great hub. Full of helpful suggestions for staying organized. I also helps the parents too by having a place to put everything.
Kat (author) from USA on October 20, 2012:
My hubby likes to put on some music and dance while he's cleaning :)
Thanks for your comment cam8510 ~ I'm working on a "clobber the clutter" adult's version this weekend. Hopefully I'll have it out tomorrow. I got a little side tracked with baking.
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 20, 2012:
Well, my kids are 24 and 27. I am alone in the house and it is still a mess. Can you come up with some fun games to get me going like you did for the kids? haha good hub.
Kat (author) from USA on October 18, 2012:
Thank you for your comment bridalletter. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub :) Sometimes when we know certain things & it becomes common place for us, we forget that not everyone knows it too. I've found that seems to be the case with much of what I've learned through my years of babysitting, being a nanny, going to school to become an Early Childhood Specialist, preschool teaching, & raising a big family... lol
Just like other people with their "niche".
Thanks again, I appreciate you stopping by! Have a great day.
Brenda Kyle from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA on October 18, 2012:
Really useful tips for moms and dads. I don't miss those days of toys all over a room. I know it is much easier for people that have a playroom and you just close the door when guests arrive. Kids over the past 15 years have too many toys. I think it is overwhelming for them when every toy is out. Perfect rule, one toy out at a time.
Kat (author) from USA on October 17, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your story moonlake. I appreciate the comment. It's nice when you can just close the door & pretend the mess isn't there :)
moonlake from America on October 17, 2012:
Great hub good ideas. Enjoyed reading. Very good information. We were lucky because we always had a playroom for the kids. If company came with kids they stayed in the playroom. Once company was gone they could play were they wanted. Our boys loved hot wheels and matchbox cars and had the tracks running all through the house. They had to pick-up after and put back in playroom. If the playroom was a mess I could just close the door.
Kat (author) from USA on October 17, 2012:
Thanks justateacher! Your magic trash games sounds fun too. Thanks for stopping by :)
LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on October 16, 2012:
Great ideas! I have always tried to make a game of cleaning. In the classroom we play the "Magic Trash" game. I appoint an object on the floor as the magic trash (without telling the kids what it is) and then have the kids scramble to pick everything on the floor in hopes they find what I have designated. When the magic trash is "found" the student gets a "prize" either a sticker or a small piece of candy. The kids have fun and I get a clean room!
Randi Benlulu from Mesa, AZ on October 16, 2012:
Thanks, I knew you'd say that! Have a great day! :)
Kat (author) from USA on October 16, 2012:
@Gary ~ even at age 1 the picture labels are understandable. I worked at a daycare/preschool for 8 years & the 1 year olds were able to master this concept. Of course, they do need help staying focused :) I also have used this in my own home & all 6 of my kids were able to work with it at that age. Thanks for your comment & good luck.
@btrbell ~ I'll get on that (just for you)
:) have a great day, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Randi Benlulu from Mesa, AZ on October 16, 2012:
Love it! Great ideas. I'm now waiting for the "Clobber the clutter"...10 years later! Thank you!
Gary Holdaway from Sleaford, UK on October 16, 2012:
Very good tips and a very nice hub! My little one is a bit young to understand these rules yet though, she's only 1 :) I may label the boxes on shelves though, as it is a great idea for her to learn the words, and learn tidying up.
She often helps us throw all of her toys back into the toy box though, it really is quite cute. Now is the best time I think for implementing that technique. Thank you, voted up!