7 Tips to Teach Kids to Clean Up

Why don’t kids want to clean up? For so many reasons, many of which are really good ones.

Obstacles to Cleaning and 7 Tips to Teach Kids to Clean Up

  1. Cleaning up makes things harder to find. When toys are on the floor, kids can find and play with them.  A jumble of toys inside a chest doesn’t look any cleaner to kids than the piles on the floor, and now they’re in a deep pile so kids can’t see individual items. Fix: Don’t use a big toy chest. Separate toys into categories–like matchbox cars, blocks, or animals–so when toys are put away they’re easier, not harder, to find.
  2. Kids don’t know how to clean up. Kids have to be taught how to clean and organize, in small manageable steps. Fix: Pick just one or two tasks to have them practice, such as putting dirty clothes in the hamper or putting crayons into the crayon container.
  3. Children's PlayroomKids get overwhelmed. Even when kids do know how to clean up, they can get overwhelmed at the task in front of them. Fix: Help kids learn how to deal with one thing at a time. “First, pick up all of the dolls. Then, put all of the stuffed animals away.”  Another great way to make the task less overwhelming is to do one of the jobs while they do another: “You pick up all the balls and I’ll pick up all the clothes.”
  4. Kids need accountability. If kids think they might not have to clean up if they drag their feet or complain enough, they’re less likely to do it. Fix: Set up systems to help keep things consistent. For instance, have kids put away what they’ve been playing with before they pull out other toys. Or, have them put clothes in the hamper before they get into bed.
  5. It’s not fair. Other kids helped make the mess, but your kid is having to do the clean up all by herself. Rather than using cleaning up as a way of teaching kids that life isn’t fair, figure out how to make cleaning up as painless as possible. Fix: Institute clean up time before a play date is over so that the kids who helped make the mess also help clean it up. Or, help your child clean up the big mess the other kids made. Asking kids to police their friends isn’t realistic (or fair).
  6. It’s too hard to put things away. If containers, bins or baskets are too heavy, spill easily, or the top is too hard to get off or put on, it’s hard to clean up. The same goes for furniture. If  drawers don’t open, stick, fall out or things inside the drawers are so jumbled up that kids can’t find what they’re looking for, you’ll find piles on the floor. Additionally, dresser drawers are often so wide kids can’t reach both handles. You don’t want anything to stand in the way of your child being able to pick up. Fix: Get kid-friendly containers. You can take your kids to the store and ask them to open or close things to see if they can do it by themselves. Cubes with canvas bins are a great alternative to dressers, and they’re inexpensive. Drawer separators and organizers are other great tools for helping kids find and put things away.
  7. It’s not fun. Yes, I know everything doesn’t have to be fun, but do we really want to reinforce the idea that cleaning up will make you miserable? Fix: Figure out how to make at least some of it fun. Turn on music, make cleaning into a race –you pick up the blue ones and I’ll get the red ones, or make cleaning into a game like dodge laundry for sorting or basket laundry instead of basketball.

So how do you teach your kids to clean up?

How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy StepsA funny first step would be to read How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps. If your child is doing any of the things listed in this book, you have a challenge ahead! The conversation during and after the book could include how silly Ann, the main character is. You could also ask what Ann is doing wrong or how kids are really supposed to clean their rooms.

Another great approach would be to ask what your child does to clean his or her room and how he or she feels when doing so. You could ask about the obstacles listed above or go through your child’s room or throughout the house to evaluate where the set up makes it harder for your child to clean up. The environment is so much easier to control, and it doesn’t talk back.

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