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Toddlers are many wonderful things. Clean and orderly generally isn’t one of them!
While you could run around cleaning up after them, that would be a huge waste of energy that is better spent cooking yummy food and actually playing with your toddler!
So what is a tired mom to do? You teach your toddler to clean up after themselves!
How To Get Your Toddler To Help Clean Up Their Messes
This is generally an age range when kids are eager to help their parents. They love to be seen as big kids, and being helpful really makes them feel like they are doing their best!
Most toddlers should be pretty quick to learn how to clean, but even the laziest, crankiest, and messiest toddler can help out around the house.
Here are a few of my best tips to get your toddler to clean up after themselves.
Model Your Desired Behavior
You have to start by showing your toddler exactly how you would like them to help clean up. Encourage your toddler to watch you as you pick up each toy and put it where it belongs, and then encourage them to come help you.
You’ll probably find that this one tip is almost all you need for the youngest toddlers! They are little mimics and love doing what mom and dad are doing. You just have to show them how!
Make It Fun
Toddlers respond well to turning an activity into a game. So try counting how many toys your toddler can pick up at once, or do a different dance with every toy they pick up.
If your kids are laughing, they won’t resent you for making them clean! This also creates a link in their minds between cleaning and having fun. That link will come in handy when they’re older and on their own!
Turn On Music
My son loves Barney, so we often listen to the clean up song. Your kids will love listening to their favorite music while they help you clean up! Music really helps to lift their mood and give them the motivation to be a little silly while they help out around the house.
Set Realistic Expectations
There are a few things you can expect:
- It will take much longer than you think it should for your toddler to clean up.
- Your toddler will occasionally make a mess while they are cleaning up and discover toys they had forgotten about.
- Your toddler won’t be ready to do some kinds of cleaning.
Just roll with it, help them to do what they can’t do, and continue to model the behavior you want to see from them.
Don’t tell your toddler where to put each and every toy. Simply tell them to put the toys away, and guide them once they make a mistake.
Let them figure it out, even if they stand there for a second thinking about where a toy goes. This is good exercise for their brain!
Set Rules And Keep Them
Toddlers do not thrive without rules. If you want to teach them how to clean up after themselves, this starts with giving them trigger rules that teach them WHEN to clean up.
For instance, set a rule that your toddler must clean up in one room before they can play in another. Then, never break that rule, no matter how hectic life becomes.
If you break that rule, you will confuse your toddler and encourage them to find excuses to not do as you say. You’re really just sabotaging yourself if you let this happen.
When they are older, you can start explaining times when the rules can be reasonably broken. A toddler can’t understand that concept, though, so be strict in following the rules you set so that they become habits that your kids will come back to in the years to come.
Set A Timer
This tip works for adults as much as it does for kids. Counting down backwards and rushing around to get as much clean as you can before the timer goes off is very rewarding to the brain.
Give Positive Encouragement, Rarely Scolding
Toddlers respond very well to encouragement, but have you ever seen a toddler get their act together after being yelled at?
It is much better to encourage the good behavior and gently steer them away from bad behavior. So instead of blowing up at them for throwing toys hard into their toy box, find a fun way to encourage them to be more gentle.
Have A Catch-All Area To Put Toys Away
This is my most essential tip. Everything should have a place, but for toddlers that place is best if they can just put their toys in one big container without having to worry about putting them away “properly”.
I have a few areas like this, so there is some organization. All of my son’s toy food, toy cars, and toy people go into a plastic organization cabinet in separate drawers. He knows which drawers get which toys (and it isn’t the end of the world when he mixes them up).
The rest of his toys all go into one big toy box. This helps with a lot of frustration and makes cleaning up so much faster.