The toddler years are nothing short of amazing. It’s so fun to watch your little one grow. They begin to show their own little personality and their brains start to expand with new knowledge. It’s fun to watch them put sentences together and learn to use the potty and choose activities and clothing for themselves. What is not fun is the fact that they are tiny little tornadoes that leave a path of destruction anywhere they go. Going right behind them and picking everything up is just a nightmare that you don’t want to have to face. Instead, train your little one to help cleanup early and often and you’ll reap a lifetime of benefits from a child who knows how to play and cleanup independently.
The first step to making sure you toddler learns to clean properly is to purge all of your extra toy items. You’ve probably gotten rid of everything small while your child was crawling, but now it’s important to do another purge. Select a certain number of toys and only have that many out at one time. Think about having around 6 toys in each location where your child plays. That way your little will have different options of what to choose to play with but still have a controllable amount of clutter. Buy a big basket or toy bin for them to easily store toys at the end of each play period. That way, there will be no question of how to clean up. Then, before you go eat lunch, tell your little, “Okay, it’s time to cleanup so we can go have some lunch!” They will feel motivated about getting to the next thing. If you do this each and every time, they’ll never know another way and it will become second nature! (With that being said, I’m a mom too and I get it! So just try to do it as much as you can!)
Monkey See, Monkey Do
The cutest thing I ever saw was my friend’s child following her around with a spray bottle of water pretending to clean. It was adorable! Toddlers are especially excited to imitate everything you do. It’s how they learn and how they grow! Let them try sweeping, mopping or dusting. Give them a little spray bottle of water and teach them to clean the counters. It will give them great skills for when they are older, teach them that cleaning can be fun and it will keep them busy while you are actually dusting! Win/Win! Also, the more your toddler sees you cleaning up things after you’ve gotten them out, the more they’ll be inclined to clean up as well. If they see you toss a wrapper down, they’re likely to do the same. That goes for outside play as well. They really do learn by watching so be a good model!
Make It A Game
If your little is highly active, they might be too distracted by all the fun things to be even the littlest bit interested in cleaning up. For these high energy babes, you’ll want to make cleaning a game. Practice shooting stuffed animals into a basket or challenge other siblings to see who can clean up the fastest. Set a timer to up the ante! Making cleaning a game can make it more fun and more appealing to kids who have other activities on their mind!
Have A Strong Routine
Kiddos are creatures of habit and they like a good, steady routine. It helps them learn, process and feel safe in their environment. If you’re not the schedule type, it’s still important that you give them a good, steady routine during the day. It will help everything run smoother especially as you start to add additional children to your brood. A good way to do so is to have a clean up before you eat or sleep schedule. That way, the child knows what is coming next and can expect that something fun and different comes next. You can also adopt a clean up before outside time or cleanup before bedtime routine. The key is to do what works for you but be consistent and supportive.
Reinforce, Don’t Punish
Toddlers are not full grown mini adults! They are constantly learning and growing every day. They are going to make mistakes, forget what they just learned and make a ton of messes. At this age, you don’t want to punish them for these things but instead positively reinforce the correct way to do all the things. You can say encouraging words like “Let’s try this instead!” or “Watch where the stuffed animals live!” Positive interactions help build their confidence and self-esteem and allow them to make the right choices. Remember, kind people raise kind kids.
There’s nothing more fun than having a cleanup song that you play or sing while you clean up! They do this every day at preschool … Clean Up! Clean Up! Everybody, Everywhere! … It reinforces to your toddler what the current task is and helps them stay on track. Eventually, you won’t even have to say it’s time to clean up, you’ll just start the music and they’ll start cleaning! It’s mama magic!
About the Author: Tracy E. Brown is a journalist and educator with over 14 years of experience working in the field of Child Development. She is currently the Assistant Editor of Black Dress/Red Wagon Magazine in Atlanta, Ga. and previous Associate Editor at Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. She previously taught preschool at the Goddard School in Farragut, Tennessee and taught Kindergarten for Dekalb County Schools in Atlanta. Other writing credits include the Green Building Research Institute, London’s facetheory.com, WBIR Channel 10 News, PBS, Duke University and American Airlines. She is also a mom to three adorable little ones.