Four Ways to Teach Your Children to Clean Up

Four Ways to Teach Your Children to Clean Up

Raising children is often messy business, and at some point, the time comes to make the effort to make things unmessy. Children love to play with their favorite toys and paint or draw with their favorite materials.

However, when the fun is all over a massive mess can be left needing to be cleaned up. When a child reaches a certain age, usually around 3 years old, the time comes for them to start cleaning up their own messes. This moment is often cited as a particularly difficult challenge for most parents. The sense of responsibility for their items needs to be taught to children, and can often lead to tantrums, power struggles, or defiance.

It can be easy for parents to want to avoid these moments of tension and unrest by simply cleaning up after their children for them. This action however will prove to create more challenging work in the long-run, as learning to clean up for their messes is an essential part of instilling a sense of responsibility for their actions. If they always have their messes cleaned up for them, they will be instilled with a sense that others will be responsible for their actions in other areas as well.

As the child grows bigger, so will their messes. If you can get your children to learn to clean up their messes when they are little, you will save yourself the trouble of cleaning much larger messes. So when it comes to facing the struggle of teaching your child to clean up, it will take some strategies and creativity, but it will be well worth it.

Start Early



You may be thinking starting early means to start when they are ready to clean up themselves. However, the lessons of cleaning up start quite a bit before this stage. When your child is an infant and a toddler, they are always observing and learning new information.

As a parent, that means you are in a constant state of being a role model for your children. When it comes to cleaning up, it is important that you remain consistent with the act yourself, and demonstrate a positive attitude when completing each cleaning task. If you are negative or grouchy when cleaning up, your children will sense this and already have an instilled apprehension when it is their time to begin cleaning up after themselves.

Conversely, if they see that you have a good attitude about cleaning up, they are much more likely to warm up to the idea when their turn arrives. If you consistently keep a clean space that is free of clutter or grime, the environment will also be more pleasant altogether.

You will also get your children used to seeing the house in a clean state and know what a clean space ought to look like. If you try to teach your children how to clean up in a space that is already dirty, there will be very little frame of reference as to what the final state of the space will be like when it is clean.

You will want to start having your children clean up when they are physically able to do so themselves. A good indicator of this is when they are able to take toys out of a box on their own and find what they want. This usually is around three years old. The later you start teaching your children to clean up after themselves, the more difficult it will be.

Set Firm Rules and Be Consistent

When it comes time to have your children clean up, you will want to make the rules firm, and never waver from them. A good essential rule to follow is to tell your children that any items they play with must be returned to where they belong in order to play with any other items.

The specifics of just how neat the space needs to become, along with how involved they are in the entire process of cleaning up, will depend on how old they are and how capable they are of completing the task.

For instance, if a box of toys typically stays inside of a closet that they are not strong enough to open and get into themselves, it would be unreasonable to ask them to clean up completely on their own. You can ask them to put the items back in the box before you put it back where it belongs.


As far as enforcing the rules of cleaning up, you can explain that any item left out will be locked up for a duration of time. To swing things in the positive direction, you can also offer rewards, such as a fun activity or small new toy if they are doing a good job of cleaning up consistently. You can give friendly reminders to help them get started, but if there is any opposition or obvious procrastination, then follow the rules as you established. Be sure not to simply clean up their mess for them, as this will teach them that arguing or procrastination will get their way.

It is important that you are consistent with the rules you set in place, and never clean anything up for them without some sort of consequence. If you are inconsistent, they will not take your seriously.

Break the Task Down into Smaller Pieces

Enforcing rules will certainly prove to be a beneficial tool, but there will no doubt be power struggles and tantrums if you don’t exercise some creativity in helping your children clean up. One strategy you can implement is to break the task down if cleaning up after an energetic playtime seems overwhelming to your child.

For instance you can have them start by putting away items by color, type of toy, or any category you can think of that would make it fun and less stressful.

Find Ways to Make Clean Up Fun



Your child has just had a great time playing with their favorite toys, but the fun doesn’t have to stop there. One idea is to make clean up a competition if you have multiple kids. Offer a small reward to whoever cleans up the quickest or the most thoroughly. Perhaps you break out a special song just for clean up time that gets your kids energized and excited.

You can even go the extra mile if you want and make up a special dance to help them remember what to do during clean up time. Putting a positive spin on tasks such as these will help instill a value in your children that there is joy in work, not just struggle. This is a lesson that will play into many different situations in their future. When they learn to find joy in the simple tasks early on, it will make it much easier for them to find joy in the responsibilities that will be more complex, such as schoolwork, and working in a career.

Throughout this process, even if you are doing everything you can, you can still expect moments of pushback or forgetfulness.

Remember to stay patient, stick to your rules, and continue to always model a good attitude and responsibility for taking care of your own messes.