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How to teach children to clean up their toys

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The holidays have come and gone. Your home is now filled with new toys that will be played with and then tossed aside, giving a new covering to your carpet. You think to yourself, “What would it take to get my children to actually clean up when they finish playing?”

You have heard that they clean up in school. One catchy song from the teachers, and they are all about it. Yet, when you say “clean up” and then sing a song, nothing happens.

Day after day, you spend precious time picking up Legos and puzzle pieces, figurines, and Zingo tiles. You realize, this is why half the games can’t be played — the pieces are lost in the piles of toys left unsorted.


Today is the day that you start teaching your small ones to clean up. Here is the secret: cleaning up is a skill that needs to be taught. Just like the alphabet or tying shoes. If you teach them, they will clean up. If you don’t, you will continue to feel like a maid and frustrated that games purchased two months ago are useless.

Here is how you teach cleaning up:

Play a game with your small being — together.

At the end, say, “Let’s clean up.” Then, give him a specific part of the game to clean up, and you pick another part to clean up. This is a clear direction.

“You put all the red pieces away, and I will get all the green pieces.”

Make sure you only put away your pieces and wait for him to clean up his. If there are then more pieces left, assign them to your small being or yourself.

When your small being pushes back, saying, “No, I don’t want to,” simply stick to your guns and repeat the direction. Wait until he cleans up his pieces before another game can be started. Make sure to stock up on patience, as the first few times you do this, it might take some time for him to realize you mean it.

Once all the parts of the game are packed away, give the job of closing the box to someone. Either you or him, doesn’t matter, as long as you say it aloud.

“I am going to close the box now that all the pieces are away.”

Putting the game back in the closet is another specified job. Assign it to someone and then make sure that person does it.

“You get to put the box back in the closet.”

This is how you teach your kiddo to clean up!

Now, there are variables that can be added. Wait to raise the bar until this joint clean up is mastered. Then you can start having him clean up toys when he plays independently. Providing the specific elements to clean up will be a great way to support your kids accomplishing the goal of getting all the pieces away. Over time, you can reduce the details, and your small being will be a fantastic cleaner upper!

One day you will get super fancy and add in choices: “What piece do you want to clean up first?”

It’s a great goal to work towards, but know that it is not a great place to start. Start with clear directions and then move into choices.

Dr. Marcie Beigel is a behavioral therapist based in Brooklyn. She has worked with thousands of families for more than 15 years and has condensed her observations into her practice and programs. For more on her, visit www.BehaviorAndBeyond.net.

Updated 5:02 pm, July 9, 2018
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