ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! Just clean it up!

toy mess2  Why is it so difficult to get children to clean up after themselves? OMG I feel, as a babysitter, all I do is try to get kids to clean up their own messes. It is such a pain; seriously a PAIN!

When they get toys out I will let them know that they will need to put them away before they go to another activity or get a new set of toys out to play. Now, I’ve tried everything: cajoling, threat of not doing an activity that we have planned on doing unless they get their toys picked up before we go, helping them (of course), bought books, and researched the phenomenon online, and I’ve not found one really good helpful answer. Answers to the non-cleanup situation vary and, to be honest, I didn’t find a lot of advice was that helpful. All I learned was that I take pity for my own mom when I was a messy child. Gee wiz I remember the struggle of my mom trying to get me to clean up my room, the basement, my cupboard, and when I finally would it took me hours because I would get distracted, and start playing with my stuff. I remember one of the reasons I hated to clean is because I thought it took so long, and it did because I got busy NOT cleaning but piddling and playing. My poor mom.

Here are a few cleanup tips I thought were helpful from ebook Clean Up Time: How To Turn An Unmotivated Child Into A Cleaning Guru by

1 Year Olds
A one year old is able to imitate an adult by placing a toy into a bin. They will then want to take the same toy back out of the bin! That’s fine; allow them to observe you as you clean up. They will start to imitate the action by putting random toys in random spots. This is a wonderful starting point. Smile and let them know you enjoy their efforts. They need to see clean up time happen on a regular basis. If they are making a mess faster than you can tidy it up, you can tackle the issue two ways. Get faster at tidying up yourself or let them observe the last three minutes of clean up time from a playpen or high chair.

18 Month Olds
An eighteen month old is now able to join in effectively at clean up time. They need the opportunity  to be included and the chance to practice and figure it out. In six months time
they will actually be contributing, but for now, they are practicing and learning the ropes.
A child at this stage can follow a one step direction such as, “please help me put the doll
in the cradle”. Expect them to be interested in following your lead (i.e., putting bean bags
back in the basket) for about a minute or two. Then their focus will shift and they will play
with the bean bags or move onto another toy. This is normal and O.K. The end goal is to
make clean up time a pleasant activity in which the child wants to take part. Therefore,
keep the tone of clean up calm and relaxed. An 18 month old will enjoy listening to you
sing a clean up song and will want to explore the toys that you are touching. When you
touch a toy to put it away, that toy is highlighted for the child. The child will want to
come over and investigate the toy you just had in your hands. This can seem frustrating
because an eighteen month old child will follow behind you ‘undoing’ all your tidying.
When you look at the situation from a developmental perspective, the child is following
your lead well and modeling your behavior. The child sees you, pick up a toy then put it
somewhere. If you see your little one starting to undo your clean up work, invite them to
clean up right beside you. You can pass them toys every minute or so to keep them involved
while you place other toys away. It’s a juggling act. Keep singing, smiling and enjoying their
presence. They will catch on soon.

2 year olds

A 2 year old can follow a simple verbal instruction independently. They understand they are expected to repeat the instruction until an end goal is achieved. Now they are able to work along side of you to put 10 blocks into a basket. 2 year olds love to proudly declare: “All Done” when they see all the blocks in the basket.

3 Year Olds
This is a fantastic age. Three year olds love to clean and be your ‘helpers’. They want to be included in the task and they enjoy anything that is silly. If your three year old is having a day when they are
“too tired” to help you clean up the toys,try crazy humor to draw them into the activity. Put toys
on your head, stick a truck up your sleeve or do everything backwards. Three year olds can’t resist
silliness and will soon be right in the action. Three year olds also like to show you how much they
know about the world. Try putting toys away in the wrong spots (but really ham it up and put them
in strange places). Ask them to ‘help’ you because you can’t ‘remember’ where any of the toys go
today. This method always works with this age category.

4 Year Olds
Four year olds like to do a task QUICKLY. They love to be fast and be acknowledged for their speed.
This age group loves to race to be the first one cleaned up. I recommend having the children race
you or the clock (not each other). Of course, they always win the race, any caregiver will happily
relinquish the title of ‘fastest clean up person” for a tidy play room. Four year olds are able to
start the clean up process without you. They can organize toys and help younger children at clean
up time. These children prefer if you clean up with them and will need help if the clean up job is

No matter what you do always remember that you need to be consistent. A set time of clean up will help, and even if everyone is tired do something. All I can do now is wish you good luck, and blow you a cyber kiss.


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