26 answers

3 Year Old Refusing to Pick up Her Messes

I could really use some advice on how to get my 3 1/2 year old daughter to clean her room. I know that she is only 3 but she knows how to do it and has done it before and now all we get is a stern NO from her. I have tried pursuation by giving her the option to clean or go to the corner until she is ready. That only worked once. I have tried treats or something that we do not normally do but I know she really likes to do, and now she just says take my toys away. At this point I'm seriously thinking of doing just that.

Her room is such a mess that my husband and I have to clear a path to get to her bed. She really doesn't seem to care. We use to help her clean up but now we thought she was old enough to do it on her own. We have also tried sitting in her room while she picks up everything but that just gets really frustrating because she keeps asking, " Where does this go, what is this, you put it away." If we are not in the room though she will not pick up anything and has spent most of the day in her room because she refuses to do anything.

I have also tried getting her to pick up a specific thing like all of her books or all of her stuffed animals. That worked but I had to go in there about 5 times to get her to do it. Then there was trying to get her to clean a very small section so she could see her accomplishment but she didn't even want to do that.

I really need some guidence on this struggle.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Hi E.,

I have found with my 3 year old son that if we make it a "race" where we set a timer for 1 minute and see who can pick up more things, then he thinks its a game instead of a chore. Or you can take the more stern approach and just take away all of the "toys" and fun things in his room and don't give them back until he picks up the other clothes, etc. It's hard at this age to teach them how to respect their belongings, but if you are consistent and do it every single day (try around the same time), then eventually Elizabeth should start to get it. Also, try singing or maybe playing one of her favorite songs. Give her a goal of what to pick up before the song ends. Good luck!
J.

A friend of mine had the same issue with her 3 year old and did this technique. She told him, "You are allowed to keep whatever toys you clean up off the ground and put away. What you do not pick up off the ground and put away, I will give to the boys and girls that do not have any toys." That night he only picked up a few things. She then picked up all the stuff on the floor and put it in a bag and gave it away. The next morning he saw that his toys were gone. That night he began picking up his toys without arguement or resistance.

This might sound a little harsh but it worked on both my 3 and 5 year olds. When you ask her to clean her room and she says no, tell her that if you have to do it you will throw everything away. pick anything on the floor up and put it into trash bags and make her think you are throwing it in the trash, put the bag in a place she cannot see until she can start helping clean up her messes. mine threw fits about it and I hated taking their stuff but it works!

More Answers

Sounds as if she wants you to help her to get your attention. Do you play with her in her room? My daughter and I played with her toys at times and we would put them away together. Then when she played alone she did the same. To avoid having all her toys to clean let her get 1 toy only allowing the 2nd when the 1st is put back into place. I am a grandmother and raised 1 daughter this was how I taught her. She played with one thing then returned it to it's proper place and got the next. This worked very well for me perhaps it will help you. My daughter will be 23 in May and has utilized these organizational skills throughout her life in school and at home. She will be graduating college in June and her son will be 1 in June. She has worked full time, gone to school full time and been a mother for the last year. Now she is teaching her son to be structured and organized. I hope this will be of some help to you.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi E.!

Wow! You have a very smart little girl! It is very clear who is the boss here! Please note that I am not trying to be judgmental, but just offer advice. First of all you are NOT consistent. By all the things that you have tried, how long did you stick with them? Probably not very long. However, I think that no matter what you do, unless you stick with it (for longer than a week or even a month) she knows that if she sticks it out, SHE WILL WIN! Let's remember that you are the Mommy and she is just the child. What you say goes. No ifs, and or buts. I would maybe start with one group of toys at a time (just books, or just dolls, or just blocks) and say "Elizabeth, I need you to pick up the dolls and put them away." If she says no, or acts like she doesn't know where they belong, again you repeat, "Elizabeth, I need you to pick up the dolls and put them away." You DO NOT need to have a conversation about them because frankly that just wastes time and she KNOWS it! You don't need to explain WHY she needs to put them away or WHERE they go, she ALREADY knows! The 3rd time I would say, "Elizabeth, I need you to pick up the dolls and put them away or I am going to take them away." If she says, "Fine, take them." THEN DO IT! Don't give them back until she learns to pick up ALL her toys. The next time she thinks she is going to call your bluff, start with the blocks. Warn her twice and then take them. DO NOT give them back until she learns to pick up her toys. YOU didn't make the mess, YOU weren't the one playing with them. Make 3 your magic number. You shouldn't have to tell her 5 or more times to do something. You say she is ONLY 3 1/2, but a very SMART 3 1/2 it sounds like. Once she realizes that you really aren't going to give back the dolls, then the blocks (and hopefully not much more than that!!) she'll know that there are now rules to keeping her room clean. If you think she has too much to clean up for a 3 year old, then TAKE OUT SOME OF THE STUFF!!! Seriously, if you have to clear a path to get to her bed, there is too much stuff! (ONLY MY OPINION!) Do you have storage problems? We just bought one of the "steel" looking shelving units from WalMart for under $40 I think. You can easily girl it up with ribbons, paint, stickers, etc. You must be consistent whatever you do. She knows that if she calls your bluff, she wins. For the sake of her future as a tidy/organized person I think you should set boundaries. My 4 & 8 year old neices are absolute piglets! But so are my sister and brother in law! They leave their clothes everywhere and their toys. Puzzles are missing pieces, as well as games. How they play with anything is beyond me! Also, don't ever make an "empty threat". For example, "If you don't pick up your toys, I'm going to throw them away." If you're not planning on throwing them away, don't say it! It just reinforces that you NEVER MEAN what you say! Anyway, this was just one mommy's opinion. Please let us know what happens with your shining star!

@---<-----J.

1 mom found this helpful

"Clean your room" is not an age appropriate request. I have a 10 year old and "clean your room" is barely OK at that age! You really do need to break down the tasks. You said you tried "put your books away"--- that's actually perfect. She needs this enormous task broken down into bite size steps-- and at her age she still needs your guidance every step of the way. Also, if you can't walk through her room because she has so much stuff on the floor, one long term answer to your problem may be to be proactive-- remove some of her stuff so there is no chance of it all being out at the same time, then spend the time teaching her to take out one activity at a time and cleaning that up before starting something new. Also, she shouldn't have to ask "where does this go". Have shelves and bins with clearly marked labels-- obviously you need picture labels, but putting the word next to the label is great for prereading skills.

1 mom found this helpful

I agree with Janine. You have to stick to what you say or not say it at all. Break it down into small tasks and get in there and help the first few times. That does not mean to go in and clean it up while she sits and watches. Get some bins or shelves and let her decide which toys belong together and which area they should call home. When it's time to pick up, go in and be specific... "It's time to pick up now; gather all the dolls and find their home, please"
Don't be delusional in thinking that general instructions apply to very small children. They need guidance and step by step instruction at her age with supervision. Going into her room and saying... clean your room and walking out will do absolutely nothing. In her mind it's like what you would feel if you were sitting at a desk piled with paperwork to the ceiling and someone coming and telling you to get it cleaned up asap. It's overwhelming.
Also, something that works in my home is the toy switch plan. Kids get bored with the same toys every day. They want new stuff. Every couple of months we switch what toys are out. We take the toys that were out and put them in the closet. They don't really forget, but it becomes unfamiliar after a couple months and it's like they just got brand new toys again. They play more with them, there is less clutter out in the open and they appreciate what they have instead of constantly buying new things. That may be something you would want to try. Everyone takes better care of things that are "new"
Be patient and consistent... it does get better.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi E.,

I have found with my 3 year old son that if we make it a "race" where we set a timer for 1 minute and see who can pick up more things, then he thinks its a game instead of a chore. Or you can take the more stern approach and just take away all of the "toys" and fun things in his room and don't give them back until he picks up the other clothes, etc. It's hard at this age to teach them how to respect their belongings, but if you are consistent and do it every single day (try around the same time), then eventually Elizabeth should start to get it. Also, try singing or maybe playing one of her favorite songs. Give her a goal of what to pick up before the song ends. Good luck!
J.

A friend of mine had the same issue with her 3 year old and did this technique. She told him, "You are allowed to keep whatever toys you clean up off the ground and put away. What you do not pick up off the ground and put away, I will give to the boys and girls that do not have any toys." That night he only picked up a few things. She then picked up all the stuff on the floor and put it in a bag and gave it away. The next morning he saw that his toys were gone. That night he began picking up his toys without arguement or resistance.

My 3 year old daughter does the same exact thing and 2 weeks ago I finally took all her toys away exept for her legos which are the only ones she picked up after I nagged for hours. She thinks that I threw her toys in the trash but they are actually hidden in the garage. I am testing her with the legos, if she uses them and can manage to pick up after herself with those then I will let her earn her other toys back. Otherwise she will just be toyless!!Anyway, I will let you know if it works. Good Luck!!

E.,
First thing, lower your expectations. Yes, she is capable, but 3 year olds only have a three minute attention span. It it totally unrealistic for her to stay in her room and clean up everything until it is done. Yes, you may have to stay in there the whole time and yes, you may have to help her. If she has enough toys to cover the floor, she has too many toys. I would take a garbage bag, let her choose her top ten favorite toys and donate the rest to a shelter. She has too many choices. That way it takes about one minute to pick everything up. If you would only keep five big things and five small things, her life won't be so complicated. At 3, she needs to learn to pick up, but it should be fun and interesting for her, like pick up 2 big things and I will pick up 2 little things or vice versa. Children take a lot of time and attention. Its a learning process, that means it is continual. Once they know how to do something it doesn't mean that they are capable of doing it from then on out by themselves. You are constantly reminding and reteaching them. Parenting is a give and give relationship for the first several years. It's not until they are older that you will see the benefits of making sacrifices without complaining. Just love her and give her discipline, but don't set her up for failure and then get frustrated at her. Too high expectations lead to everyone being frustrated and that leads to broken relationships. Enjoy her and do the cleaning with her to lead by example.
Take Care

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