Anyone with children knows that they love to make a mess. Unfortunately, they don’t usually love to clean up their messes, which can result in stressed out parents and children, and an extremely disorganized house. Fortunately, there are many ways to help children learn these important life skills.
Remember that your child is probably more capable of cleanup than you think. If a two-year old can take a stuffed animal off his bed, he can put it back. If a three-year old takes crayons out of a box, she has the ability to put them back in. One year olds love to empty space and fill space. Having them help with cleaning up allows them to enjoy filling an empty space, as well as help them get into a routine early. It is appropriate and helpful to aid your child in doing these tasks, especially when they are very young and their fine motor skills are not fully developed.
Help can come in many different forms, ranging from helping them understand what to do: “Let’s put the doll back in her bed,” to actually helping with the task, like holding the box while the crayons are put back in or putting the crayons in while the child holds the box. This may seem like more work than actually just cleaning up on your own, but it teaches your children that you won’t clean up after him or her, and that they can be responsible for their own actions and possessions. These are important expectations to set early in life.
Another way to help kids get excited about cleaning up is to make it a game. Children are always more interested in activities that are engaging and play-based. Time your child with a kitchen timer and see if they can beat their last time. If you have more than one child, have them race each other to get kids to help with cleanup. You can also join in the fun and be part of the race! Singing a song while cleaning up both created a signal to your child that it is time to clean up, and makes the process more enjoyable.
Make sure your preschooler learns that cleanup happens before the next activity comes out. Set this expectation quickly, when the first activity comes out. By making this a habit from the very beginning, they are less likely to create the nightmare scenario for many parents: a mess in every room. This habit will help them throughout their whole life; in fact, many adults probably wish they had learned this skill earlier.
Preschoolers love to be helpful. Pointing out how useful it is for a child to clean up his or her own mess and praising the child for his or her efforts is another method of motivation for young children. Preschoolers love obvious approval, and it is never a bad idea to go overboard on the praise and appreciation! You don’t have to continue this, but starting off with it can definitely help kick start your child’s willingness to clean up. Remember though, praise works best when it is specific and focused more on effort than the child. For example, saying “Thank you for working so hard on that. I know you didn’t want to at first, and it is very helpful,” instead of, “You’re great! Great job!”
Another common tactic to get children excited about cleaning (or doing any other chore) is to use a sticker chart. Getting kids to help with cleanup is easier with some kind of reward, and young children tend to love stickers. If you want, you can offer other rewards once they get a certain amount of stickers. These rewards don’t have to be expensive or even cost money – they can be as simple as getting to have an extra bedtime story or going on a walk with a parent. This helps a child remember that the task (in this case, cleaning up) is a daily tasks and they can reflect on their success!