13 answers

3 Year Old to Clean Up

I am trying to teach my 3 year old daughter to clean up her toys. that little girl has all the excuses in the world why she can't. "Her legs hurt", "I just can't, my tummy hurts"," its too hard", ect...I try and bribe her, I have tried and acted like I was throwing away the toys she is not putting away. So in the long run, I end up doing it. My one and half old son cleans better than she does. Any ideas or suggestions would be great.

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Thanks for all the great advice. I have alot to work with. I already did the race to pick up the blocks before I counted to 10. That worked good! I know she is only 3, just taking baby steps...hopefully we'll get there. I think it's me who needs to have more patience with it,HA!

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I agree that you need to help them pick-up to some degree, but what has worked for both of my children (ages 6 and 2 1/2) is to say that if I have to pick up the toys by myself they are going in the "good-bye" bin. Basically this is a laundry basket where I put the toys, and then I take them away for anywhere from one day to a week. The first one or two times they didn't seem to care, but they quickly caught on that they won't have they toys if they don't help.

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I agree with Melissa - she's only 3. Ask for specifics. Example: Please pick up your blocks and put them in here. Please put your books on the shelf.

If she gives you an excuse (her legs or tummy hurt), then she can go to bed and stay there. When she feels better, she can come out and help pick up.

If she absolutely refuses, then take the toys away (I have a hamper for them) and tell her she has to earn them back by listening to you and doing what you ask.

You also might want to institute the "Put the current toy away before grabbing another one rule." Kids have to do this at school or daycare - might as well do it at home too.

Edited to add:

Above all: BE CONSISTENT! If you are going to throw a toy away, by all means, do it! Don't hide it. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Be clear.

If you say the toy will be taken away, then take it until she earns it back. This is an ongoing process - pick one method and stick with it. Do not bribe her! Be very clear, if X doesn't happen, then Y.

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It's called manipulation, and it's obviously worked for her so far!!! Set a timer, and tell her anything not picked up gets put away for at least a week, and she has to earn it back by picking up, or whatever else you decide. It also helps to make clean up as easy and clear as possible at this age. Demonstrate to her exactly where things go, even go as far of putting pictures on shelves or bins to help. Take a picture of the room and challenge her to match it. It may not be perfect, but praise her if she's really trying. Don't bribe. If she has too many toys to care for, rotate them so it is easier to clean up. Also, make it a habit everyday, it can be overwhelming if it gets too bad.

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Just out of curiosity, is your daughter in preschool or anything like that? The only reason I'm asking is at my daughters school (even at the ages of 7 & 8) the teachers have a "Clean up" song. My kids learned it at school and often when they are cleaning up their room, they will sing it. Something like that might help or make it a game... I always did the "lets see how many toys you can pick up before mommy counts to 20 (or whatever)"... Then while counting get all excited and make a game out of it.. something that should be fun and not dreadful for the both of you. Not only does the counting give them a "goal", but it also teaches them to count to 20 lol, by hearing it over and over again. Often times my daughters would start to count with me. Change the number you count to as well, one time count to 20 next time count to 10 or 15. When they get older try turning it into a race on who can pick up the most toys. All of these suggestions are a TEMPORARY fix (until the kids realize what you are doing LOL) but hopefully for now it will take some of the stress off of your shoulders. I know both of these require you to stop everything you are doing at the time to attend to them cleaning their room, but sometimes it's worth just stopping and watching them. Right now you might feel like ripping your hair out cause you can't get her to do what to us is a simple task, but these times will pass all to quickly and someday you will stop and wonder what happened to them.

For a three year old, you need to participate with the child to clean up. You will get better results rather than tell them to go clean their room. If they do a great job..give them a special treat.

If she won't clean up her toys, I'd recommend not letting her do something else that she wants to do (such as watch a show on Nick, Jr, etc). Our 3.5 year old has learned that if he says "My stomach hurts" he MAY get out of something like going to school.

As the parent, you have to stay firm. We had the same problem last night where they got a basket of balls out and had a great time and didn't want to help put them away. The TV was turned off until they helped get every ball back in the basket (though I did about 80% of it).

They seem to have all learned all these excuses. As strong willed as he's being, I'm being even more and reminding him every possible chance who the Mom is and who the kid is.

Good luck.

I agree that you need to help them pick-up to some degree, but what has worked for both of my children (ages 6 and 2 1/2) is to say that if I have to pick up the toys by myself they are going in the "good-bye" bin. Basically this is a laundry basket where I put the toys, and then I take them away for anywhere from one day to a week. The first one or two times they didn't seem to care, but they quickly caught on that they won't have they toys if they don't help.

I pretty much agree with Melissa. Your daughter is only three. It is too overwhelming for her to tackle a huge task like this. Help her to do it. When you tell her that it is time to clean up her toys and she doesn't want to do it, then tell her that you will help her. If she says her legs hurt, then (for example) she can sit down and put blocks into the container. At first you probably will do most of the cleaning, but eventually she will help you more and more. Some days will be better than others, but eventually she will get it and will help you. You can't continue to bribe her for the rest of her life to get things done - it just isn't going to work. Most days my son cleans up with no complaints, other days are harder, but there are days I don't feel like cleaning up either!

At 3 years old a pile of blocks or doll clothes can be overwhelming. I always told my 3 year old to "help pick up." Make it a game by racing each other to fill the toybox, or racing the clock, try to throw the toys in the toybox like basketball. My son started asserting his independence at about 3 1/2 and tried refusing to pick up toys, or do anything else he was asked to! I found the solution in choices. For example, "which color block do you want to do first? I'll do blue, what do you want to do? Do you want to pick up the cars or the trains first?" Now my son is 4 and I expect him to clean up a set of toys before getting out a new set. He is used to this expectation and does it without help or whining-most of the time! Good luck!

Remember Mary Poppins? How she made cleaning up into a game? That is what I did with my daughter. She is competitive, so I told her I could put away more than she could - and wouldn't you know, she raced around putting things away to beat me. I would also pretend I didn't need any help, and then put things away in an obviously wrong place. Then I'd say, "see, here it goes!" and my daughter would laugh, tell me how silly I was and put in its proper place.

Ah, must be that time of year when we parents are tired of tripping over the holiday gifts!

My son will always help ME pick up the toys, but the change lately is that I'm requiring him to pick up whatever he was playing with before opening up a new bin or leaving the house. This is going so/so. I use the words "respect" and "responsible" a lot when coaching him about what to do. I like Melissa's ideas about giving choices and having him help me, but I'm to the point where I believe that he can do it himself. So begins the training =)

The other day, my son was particularly spirited. He finished his finger paints, and, while I was getting the faucet to a decent temp to wash hands, he proceeded to wipe his fingers over my cabinets. Then he refused to clean up the cabinets and table with the washcloth. I explained that we should respect our things by cleaning up after we have fun, but he wasn't having it, even when I explained that we can only keep stuff that we can take care of. I picked up his paints and threw them away. I REALLY threw them away. It's the only toy that I really followed through with tossing out. He threw a DVD on the floor today when I told him that we wouldn't watch it; I threw it away after reminding him to pick it up. When he saw me throw it away, he fished it out of the trash and put it away. I think that's fine since he knew that was what I ultimately wanted him to do. I congratulate him for being responsible when I feel he's making an earnest effort, and I head in to help finish things up when he's about 50% done. My hope is that he will do it on his own soon.

BTW, the "clean up" song really helps! ("Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere! Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!") Not sure where it's from (Barney? Dora?), I learned it when subbing in a kindergarten classroom. He cues himself to clean up by singing it, and it keeps him cheerful while he's busy putting things away.

Hi J.. Make sure you are breaking down the job. For example, instead of saying, "put your toys away", break it down into more specific steps, such as, "put the books on the shelf", "put the dolls in the chest", etc. This was a huge lesson I learned with my son. He would get overwhelmed, and not even know where to start. This helped a lot.

I have to laugh, my 10 yr old was trying that ploy today. When you act like you are throwing them out and she knows you are not, it is not going to do any good. Throw them out. Put them in a big garbage bag and put them in the garage or basement or somewhere that is going to wait for the garbageman. Let them stay there until the night before and then act like you are actually throwing them away. This worked for my kids when they were 4 or 5. They didn't get the toys back for over a month and I actually was able to sort through them and get rid of broken and old stuff they no longer played with. It got pretty boring with no toys. I kept the toys in a room in the basement. And I wouldn't let them watch extra TV either. You can slowly put toys where ever they are kept or reward her for good behavior with one--just don't tell her that you kept all of them. That is also the time I introduced chores to them. 3 is a great age for her to help you sort clothes like socks or wipe the table or something small like that.

J., you have some great ideas here. One of the biggies is to make sure she knows what "clean up" means. My son is 14 and I can say clean up and he still doesn't get it done lol. Tell her exactly what you want done. put the blocks away, dolls go here, balls in this bin etc. we have the "you have to put that away before you can get this out rule. and having manageable storage solutions help. that doesn't mean expensive just what works for you. we have baskets and bins and we have hanging shoe organizers on the backs of every door in our home. each kid has one and we have them in the coat closet for mittens, scarves and hats etc.... if she knows where it goes chances are it will make it there with a little prompting. in my daycare we used to sing Time to put the toys away, toys away toys away time to put the toys away to play another day. we did it before lunch and again at the end of the day. they loved the singing and the putting away. also a side note. have bedroom toys and living room toys. and don't let them criss cross. otherwise you will have toys everywhere. have a bin in the living room and don't let it over flow all over the place. good luck

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