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I’ll admit – I’m not the tidiest mom. In fact, I’m not even close.
But my 2 year old loves cleaning up.
And making messes.
But that’s beside the point.
Teaching our toddler to clean up is something my husband and I really tried to instill in him. Because all parents want their kids to be better than themselves, right?
In fact, these days our son will occasionally happily put his trucks away without being asked.
So what tips did we try in order to teach our toddler how to clean up?
Kids Love to Emulate the People They Love and Look-up To
Especially when you’re first teaching your child to clean up, we never simply told him to clean up. Each time we wanted him to put something away, we got down on the floor with him and told him what we wanted as we demonstrated it to him.
For example, if I wanted my son to clean up his blocks I would sit on the floor with him and ask him to put his blocks away. Then I’d show him what I meant by putting the blocks away in the appropriate container.
Praise Small Successes
When you’re teaching your toddler how to clean up, every time they successfully put something away should be praised.
Did your son put their balls away where they belong?
“Hooray! Good job, buddy!”
Did your daughter correctly put her blocks away when you asked her to?
“Wow! You did such a good job putting those blocks away!”
Whatever your kid’s success is, in any given moment, should be met with praise and encouragement. When your toddler is encouraged and reinforced, they want to do it again and again.
Focus on One Task at a Time
I don’t know about you, but when the house is a mess, I get incredibly overwhelmed.
The same is true with our toddlers.
So, focus on one item at a time.
For example, when every toy your kid owns has been strewn throughout the playroom, telling your 2 year old to simply clean up the room, or to clean up their toys, probably won’t get you the results you want.
Instead, ask your child to put a specific type of toy away (“hey kiddo, can you please put your books away on the bookshelf?”). After they tackle one particular task, praise them and ask them to clean up another type of toy.
Teach Your Toddler to Clean by Making It Fun
Play their favorite music while you clean. Dance while you clean. Take breaks. Whatever works for your specific child, make cleaning fun!
Clean Together Frequently
The best thing you can do, even if its inconvenient for you, is to make tidying up a frequent bonding activity.
Even if it is something as simple as quickly tidying up their bedroom, or making sure everyone’s shoes are put away before bed, do it together.
This reiterates to your child that cleaning is a positive experience, not a punishment or something that have to do because you’re making them do it. Instead, its an activity that they get to do with you.
Give Yourself Enough Time
Toddlers are notorious time wasters. So if you want their entire playroom cleaned up, don’t make this task something that needs to be done under a strict time constraint.
Keep in mind that the best way to teach your toddler how to clean up is to make the experience enjoyable and tension-free. You don’t want to be yelling because your kid isn’t working fast enough.
Reiterate expectations clearly and often
Toddlers tend to need expectations reiterated often. They don’t have very long attention spans, so reminding them gently of the task you want them to complete generally needs to be done numerous times.
If you don’t expect that you’ll need to gently redirect them to complete a task numerous times, you may end up finding yourself frustrated.
Keep in mind that your toddler can’t really help the fact that they need constant reminding. When everything is new and exciting, everything can be distracting. So parental patience as your child is learning what is expected of them and clearly explaining those expectations is critical to teaching your toddler to clean up.
Have clear locations for toys to be placed
Having a clear location for where toys belong will help you to teach your toddler how to clean up. When toys are consistently put in the same place, such as putting books on a bookshelf, your toddler will begin to be able to take more initiative to put things away.