The Critical Importance of Clean

When your child is young, believe it or not, it’s important to teach them HOW and WHY to clean. Sure, it helps you in the process, but your ultimate goal is to raise your child to be a self-sufficient adult, right? If your child moves from toy to toy, without cleaning up, this is your chance to teach them. And if you can’t stand the thought of stepping on one more Lego or tripping over one more pair of shoes? This is your chance, too!

I am a play therapist, so I work with preschool aged children for a living. Prior to that, I taught second grade. I have seen it time and time again: a child will play with a toy, get bored and walk away, without even thinking about putting the first one away.

Children are great mess-makers, but not always so great at cleaning up afterwards. They live in the moment and when they decide to move on, it’s natural they do it without even thinking about cleaning up. In your child’s mind, they don’t understand why we would waste time cleaning when we could be playing. With that being said, this is when they are either told to clean up or left alone to play while a grown-up cleans up for them.

How to Teach Your Child to Clean Up After Themselves

1. Rotate toys

Don’t give your child an option of having every toy out all of the time. Rotate them. Keep a few toys in the playroom or bedroom at a time. A month later, swap them out for another basket.

2. Less is more

Only have two to three toys out at a time, eliminating the option to move to an unlimited number of activities. Clean up together afterwards.

3. Turn off the TV (gasp!)

You want your child to learn to focus, to start and complete the task at hand. In this case, that means getting out a toy, playing with it and putting it back. Amongst other things, the TV gets your child used to everything happening right now.

4. Get centered

Set up centers in your home: a sensory box center, a kitchen center, a doll center, a car center. This allows your child to move from area to area. Move with him for the first few weeks, until he learns not to take the toys out of the center.

5. Go outside

Playing outside several times a day lets your child burn off some of that energy in the great outdoors.

6. Start small with chores

It might be that they are cleaning up the toys in the back yard or helping to clean up shoes. Don’t make the chores too hard, but not too easy either. The key is to remember you’re doing this to teach him how to do a task appropriately. Don’t overly correct when he does and appreciate the fact that your child is trying.

7. Music while you work

Turn Pandora to a kid station and dance while you work.

8. Organize together

Gather a few bins and ask your child to show you where all of the cars go and where all of the dress up costumes belong.

8. Messy toys go in a safe place

Put a few toys within reach, but put the rest out of reach. Do this with puzzles, art supplies and anything else that is harder for the child to clean. Those are things that you can do together.

9. Have mess-free playtime

There are plenty of places where your kid can play without a mess resulting. Consider the library. There are also options that leave a mess, but you don’t have to clean them up. Lowes Build n’ Grow activities are an example of this and are typically held during the weekend. The kids can cut, hammer and screw and leave with a project, not a mess.

10. Talk it out

Explain that you want him to clean up when he is finished. Explain how someone could get hurt if they fall on a toy that was left out. Set up a consequence together that you will be able to stick to for times when he doesn’t clean up.

The end result of these steps will not eliminate a mess. After all, they are kids. But that’s not the point. Your child will understand that part of the fun of playtime includes cleaning up afterwards.

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