Any parent knows that when kids are young their attention span is far from focused and they are highly unlikely to participate in any activity that they do not care for; most of all cleaning up. Sure, it’s fun to put things away if only to dump them back out again, and why would children want to clean up when that time could be focused on a new activity?
As parents, we’ve tried it all; bribing, threatening, punishment. Why on earth do none of these work? Not all children are the same, think the same, or mature at the same rate, therefore not everyone method will work on every child. Here are some helpful hints on how to get your child to at least start the cleanup process.
The easiest way to instill good clean up habits in your children is to start at the earliest age possible. Even when chubby little baby is sitting on the floor watching you clean up, explain to your baby what you are doing and why. You may even want to include a fun clean up song that your child will catch onto as they mature into messy toddlers.
When trying to convince your child to clean up, you do not want to overwhelm them. Help them with their task by setting smalls goals. Instead of saying “clean your room” you may want to say “It would be very helpful to Mommy (or Daddy) if you could clean up the blocks, please.” This way your child can focus on one task and will be able to concentrate on getting it accomplished. Continue by adding a single task after each previous task is completed. If your child begins to lose focus, step in and help them out with a few small items to show them clean up time is a quick and fairly painless process.
You have to remember that most of the time your children want to be with you or do what you do. In that case you can make a designated clean up time for everyone, and end it with a combined activity. For instance, “while I clean the dishes, you clean the blocks. When we are both done we can read a story together.” You may also want to consider helping each other. Have your child push the button on the vacuum cleaner or push the Swiffer while you vacuum, then trade off and you help clean up the blocks. This shows your child that together you can get more done and that with team work everybody wins.
For children a little bit older, more drastic measures may need to be taken. You might want to remind your children that toys are a privilege and not a necessity and that they don’t have to have them. You can certainly take them away if they cannot be taken care of. Remind them that Mommy and Daddy take care of their belongings and that your child should take care of theirs as well. If you do try the “lose your toy” method be sure to follow through with taking toys away, or your child will soon call your bluff. When doing so, be clear as to why you are taking the toy and for how long. Make sure you do not give your child a time frame that cannot be kept i.e. 3 days versus 3 months. Not sticking by your word will cause your child to doubt you, nor will it teach them how to follow through with their own time limits.
Remember, getting mad doesn’t help, but taking action makes a point. Be sure to always explain your actions so your child will know for the future that cleaning up is a must!