Getting Kids to Help

How do you get kids to help clean up?


I posted a while ago asking for help on getting my 3-year-old to clean up his toys.  I received a number of great suggestions which are listed below.  Thank you to everyone who responded.

What ended up working for me was getting out two boxes and explaining to my son that one was his box and one was Mommy's box.  (I think I borrowed this idea from Supernanny.)  He had 15 minutes to put away anything he wanted to keep in his box; whatever was left went into Mommy's box and would be stored away for awhile.  I used a kitchen timer and kept reminding him that time was slipping away.  He didn't completely get the point (or maybe didn't think I'd carry through) and only put a few toys in his box.  He was not happy when I carted away the rest.  The next time I threatened this, he was quite good at quickly putting his toys in his box.  As effective as this was, it may be a bit much for daily cleanup as it is exhausting.

Other ideas include...

  • Don't let them play with something new until the other game/toys/videos/etc. are put away.
  • Make cleanup a game.
  • He helps you clean up, and you help him clean up.  Throw the toys in the basket and high-five after each success.  (Note: this takes a lot of time and patience!)  Another parent bought a shopping cart at a yard sale, and he and his child make a game out of running the cart around the house and picking things up.
  • Have less stuff (easy for that person to say!) .
  • Praise, Praise, Praise!
  • Use a sticker chart to help them clean up.
  • Set a timer and race to see if you can both clean up toys within a certain timeframe.  (I still use this one to motivate myself to clean up the kitchen!)
  • Establish clear places for each toy, not just big bins of lots of things thrown together.  Children find it fun to remember where everything goes and getting it in there.  One mom put all the toys into baskets with labels (a bit like school), so she knows EXACTLY where everything goes.  The rule now at our house is that there will be no stories at night until everything is picked up.
  • Parents of one Bob the Builder fan use Bob's "teamwork" saying to encourage their son to work with them to clean up.
  • Have a few bins in the living room for the most-used toys.  Many professional organizers suggest keeping toys as close to the place you are going to use them in as possible.  Buy nice-looking toy storage furniture at places like Brookstone.  If you like colors, the Container Store has really fun stuff that is slightly see-through, making it easy for everyone to figure out what goes where.  Some parents even put pictures of the items in drawers or cabinets on the outside.
  • Put one project away before starting another one.
  • Here's one parent's tactic:  anything left out goes into a bag in the hallway, and the child won't be able to play with it for a day or so if he doesn't clean it up before he goes to bed.  (As this parent pointed out, you have to actually follow through with this threat!)
  • "My mother had five kids and ended up just picking up after us once we went to bed.  I think it was easier for her to do that than to stay on top of us to clean up.  In retrospect, it was a disservice to us and we didn't learn how to pick up after ourselves.  Now I try to be diligent with my kids, but, as a recovering slob, it's still very hard for me to pick things up.