When children are little, their parents are their entire world. Taking advantage of this window of time in which your child wants to be with and do everything with you can plant the seeds for a lifelong habit. One such lesson, one that you may reap the benefits of even in the short term, is encouraging your child to clean up after herself.
Give gentle warnings
Transitions are hard for young children, especially when they involve stopping something fun. Giving your child a gentle reminder, something like, “Honey, you have five more minutes to play with your trains. Then we will clean up together!” can help keep them on-track, and help them prepare for the transition. Keep your tone light and happy.
Use a timer
Setting a timer is a convenient way to de-personalize the end of fun. Your child may even enjoy helping you set the timer. Make sure they know that when the timer rings, you’ll both start cleaning up together. After just a few times, you may be surprised to find how quickly and smoothly Baby jumps into cleaning up when the timer dings.
Give choices – within parameters you set
Children, even at very young ages, love to feel independent and “big.” When you give them choices, you’re allowing them to spread their wings a bit and avoid a clash of wills. Try something like, “Would you like to clean up now and then take a bath? Or play for five more minutes, and then Daddy will help you clean up before bath time?” Either choice is fine for you, but when your child gets to have some say over what they're doing, the transition process tends to be much smoother.
Make it fun
Anything that can make chores fun is a win, whether you’re three or thirty. Take the sting out of the work of cleaning up from the beginning, and your child may not fight it in the first place. You can take turns putting books on a shelf with exclamations of, “Your turn!” and then “Okay, my turn!” and maybe even, “You want another turn? Okay! Go for it!”
Clean-up songs also help create a cheery atmosphere and keep the momentum going. Eventually, your child may even react to the clean-up song like they do to the timer, automatically switching into clean-up mode.
Clapping and cheering, especially for a very young child, also teaches them that something like putting blocks in a basket is something good. I even do this with my one-year-old.
Make cleaning up part of a routine
Connect cleaning up with something else that’s part of your daily routine. These can be small things like picking up one toy before taking another one out, or bigger picture connections like starting to clean up the playroom when you hear Daddy start the bath water. The idea is to build cleaning up into a daily habit that’s intertwined with other daily activities.
Admire the result together
Make a big deal of noticing how nice the room, shelf, etc. looks once items are put back in their places. Tell Baby you noticed how hard they worked, and that everything looks so nice. You will build up their self-confidence and associate positive feelings with the end result of cleaning up, something that will help cement the habit.
Enjoy a reward
When your child does an exceptional job or they persevere through cleaning up a particularly challenging mess, give a little reward like, “Oh my goodness, you did that so fast that I think we have time for an extra book tonight!” Again, the idea is to connect joy with an act that you want to encourage – in this case, cleaning up thoroughly and efficiently.
Although at this point, it may be faster and easier to clean up messes yourself, investing the time to clean up alongside your child will pay off with a child who, with any luck, won’t think twice about picking up after themself on their own as they grow.
About the author:
Shifrah lives in Tallahasse, FL with her husband, four children, two cats, and dog. In the midst of mothering and writing, she enjoys reading, lifestyle photography, sewing, going to the beach, and documenting it all in pocket scrapbooks. She drinks her coffee black.