Stress-free Clean-up!

This hilarious video has gone viral; showing a mom trying to keep her house clean while her toddler manages to undo every chore she has accomplished. Mom neatly folds clothes and places them in the drawer, her daughter removes the clothes and tosses them on the floor. Mom picks up legos, her daughter takes a bag full and dumps them on the ground. This is a reality for most parents with young children.

I can’t tell you how many times parents observe the classroom and ask us, “How do you get my child to clean up? At home it is such a struggle.” Here are a few tips for stress-free clean-up. Help your children clean with you rather than work against you.

  • Set the rule from the beginning – If your child does not know the rules, he/she cannot follow them. Ground rules need to be clear and consistent, example-Once your child is done with a toy, he/she must restore it where it belongs.
  • Make cleaning up fun! – get creative; let’s count how many animals we can put back in the basket, which color legos should we pick up first, can you clean up everything by the time this song ends. Notice you are not asking your child to clean up.
  • Limit the number of toys a child can play with at once – in the classroom, our students are only allowed one work at a time. After they are done with it, they must put it back where it belongs so it is ready for the next student. Only then can the child choose a new work.
  • Use few words – there is no need to give a lecture on why the toys must be picked up right away. Young children can only process one step directions. All you need to say is, “It is time to clean up”. Non-verbal cues are even more powerful than words sometimes. After you have already asked your child to clean up, you can simply point to the toy on the floor and then point to where it should be.
  • Follow through with consequences – sometimes frustration can get the better of even the best parents. If you have set the rule that toys must be cleaned up and if they are not you will put them away for a week, then do just that. If you have already asked your children to clean up and given them warnings, say nothing, pick up the toys and put them away. After this happens a few times, your child will understand the importance of cleaning up.

Our main job as parents and teachers is to raise children who are independent, responsible, self-reliant adults. The task of cleaning up teaches many valuable life lessons. Children learn that they are responsible for their “mess” both literally and figuratively. They learn to be self-sufficient, instead of always relying on others. Children learn confidence that they can tackle a daunting task. Lessons can be found in even the most mundane daily activities.

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