Teaching Toddlers To Clean Up – Where Do I Start?

If you want to teach your child to clean up, toddlerhood is a great time to start. But how do you train your little one to take initiative and help out? Here are some tips.

Keep It Simple

Kids can easily get overwhelmed by tasks that have multiple steps in them, so don’t say “Go clean your room.” Instead say, “Can you help me put away these spoons? There are mommy size ones and baby size ones. Let’s put them together.” Keep tasks simple and easy, so that they can for sure finish it and be proud of themselves. This will boost their confidence and motivate them to help you in the future.

Gently Remind Your Child to Help

When it comes to tidying up, one of the best ways to remind your child to clean up is a “5-minute warning.” ParentingNow.org gives a good example of how this works:

“As morning snack time approaches, give your toddler a 5-minute warning (visual timers are very helpful in these instances) that playtime is almost over and that she is going to need to clean up very soon. When the timer goes off, calmly tell your child to start picking up, and be as specific as possible: ‘It’s time to stop coloring, could you please put your markers in the box for me?‘ “

In addition to prefacing that it’s almost time to clean up, be sure to remind your toddler to clean up if they forget. Scolding your child for getting distracted is unnecessary and generally an ineffective way to encourage your child to clean up. But gentle reminders are helpful and constructive. For instance, if you ask your toddler to do something and they become distracted mid-chore, calmly repeat what you asked them to do and help them pick up where they left off. Toddlers have short attention spans, so they get off-track easily.

Model a Good Work Ethic

In case you haven’t noticed already, your toddler is a little copycat! So invite them to come along as you clean up. Have them help you with age-appropriate tasks like unloading the dryer or sweeping the floor. They may not do the job perfectly, but that’s okay! It’s more important that you do the work side-by-side so that they can observe and learn how the job is done.

Additionally, model the attitude you want your child to have when it’s time to clean up. If you whine about chores to your spouse or are constantly frustrated while you’re doing them, your toddler probably won’t volunteer to help out and will probably whine too! But, if your toddler sees you do chores with a cheerful heart, playing music while you do dishes, or chatting on the phone while you do laundry, they’ll learn that chores are just a regular part of life and aren’t something to be dreaded.

Inspire Confidence in Them

Toddlers may be messy and strong-willed, but they also love to help! So why not harness that natural desire to be helpful? You could say things like, “You did a great job putting your shoes away when we got home from the library!” or “You’re such a good helper. Can you go put your plate in the sink?” If you’re consistent in asking them for help and praising them when they do, it will pay off. Eventually, you’ll start seeing them do it on their own without any prompting or reminding, and you just might tear up because it means your little one is growing up.

Teaching toddlers to clean up around the house doesn’t have to be a battle. Consider it progress every time your child takes initiative or helps out with a good attitude. Celebrate the small victories (“Yay! You put your dirty clothes in the hamper all by yourself!”) and over time, your child will become more and more helpful.