21 answers

3 Year Old Will Not Help Clean

Hi moms. I'm getting very frustrated with our nearly 4 year old. Ever since she was old enough, I'd have her help clean up her toys. I suppose I wasn't consistent enough. Now, with a 2 year old and 5 month old, I really need her help around the house. Nothing major-I'm not having her clean the windows or scrubbing the floor. Just picking up toys after herself. Today, I thought it would be fun to let the kids eat peanuts from a shell. We usually do this on vacation, so it was an extra special treat. We went outside and I told them to just throw the shells into the dirt. VERY simple request. After they were done eating, I asked the kids to pick up. I asked my daughter, specifically, about 5 times. I finally got frustrated and said that if she didn't pick up her shells, that she'd have to go to timeout till daddy gets home (an hour timeout). I also mentioned that I might need to take a toy away. She said "I don't care if you take toys away. I'm too tired to clean and it's hot."
Tired is ALWAYS her excuse. A few days ago, I threw out about 4 toys and had her help me put them in the trash bag and take them outside to the trash so that she knew I was serious. She didn't care at all. She never mentioned those toys since.
Not sure what to do. I really need her help. I've explained to her that, as part of the family, she needs to help. I explained that daddy helps me when he is home with folding laundry, etc. We are Christians and have read several devotions about being part of a family and helping out. NOTHING is sticking with her.
HELP PLEASE! Oh, and I make a game of it and put on fun music and I help.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Kara H.'s response is the only one that makes sense to me. She's three years old and not responsible for helping you because you have younger children. And the peanut shells... you told her to throw them on the ground and then pick up hers? How did you or she know which ones were hers? Seems it would have been easier to eat them inside, throw them on the floor and sweep them. Peanut shells in the dirt should stay in the dirt.

1 mom found this helpful

Find something she DOES care about and use that. Also, good old fashioned firmness is the key. You are in charge and she does not have a choice in the matter.

More Answers

Kara H.'s response is the only one that makes sense to me. She's three years old and not responsible for helping you because you have younger children. And the peanut shells... you told her to throw them on the ground and then pick up hers? How did you or she know which ones were hers? Seems it would have been easier to eat them inside, throw them on the floor and sweep them. Peanut shells in the dirt should stay in the dirt.

1 mom found this helpful


When dealing with three/four year olds, learn to keep your words/requests few and be ready to lead the charge! My 3 1/2 year old only really likes to pick up if I'm helping. We have contests to see who can toss the most toys in the box etc. Try not using the words CLEAN UP - instead, "Let's put your dollies to bed...whatever"

This is very normal developmental behavior for a three year old. They can be SUPER resistant to something outside their plan.

Here are a few options you could have chosen with the peanuts. 1. Leave them there- they'll break down in the dirt. 2. Say, "You're right - it IS hot. Let's come back later and get them, ok?" Taking a break and coming back later gives you BOTH a chance to cool off.

If you really want her daughter to help around the house,
how about giving her something fun to do too? Always being the garbage girl (cleanup girl) might be discouraging. Try letting her do something fun - help cook/bake etc and let her know she's helping you.

Be patient, be kind. Remember that your daughter is going to learn more from what you DO than what you SAY. How well do you keep your "toys" organized?

Finally, if you do feel the need to punish your daughter, an hour time out is EXCESSIVE. A good rule of thumb for time outs is 1 minute for each year of your child's age.

Gently,kindly and patiently parenting a three year old takes hard work and a lot more discipline than it does to just hit her ("loving" spanking notwithstanding). It's exhausting but will pay off in the end with a child who has an internal sense of right and wrong that's grown from watching you - rather than someone who's just afraid of getting in trouble.

I wish you the best in your parenting journey.


1 mom found this helpful

You need to find something that is important to her and use that as your leverage. For instance, for one of my kids it was their toys in general. So I started a time out box for toys. Everytime they didn't clean up their toys, I would clean them up by putting every toy left out into the time out box. She had to earn her toys back from the time out box. Another of my kids was motivated by money so we started a chore chart (www.mytimecalendars.com) and rewarded him with an allowance when he completed his chart (money was deducted from his weekly allowance for uncompleted chores). As the special treat, we occassionally plan a trip yo the store where they can spend their earnings.

Each child is different and their motivations seem to change with each age so we've had to keep adjusting our techniques as well. Sometimes it's friend playdates that motivate or time playing video or computer games. Try to find what's truly important to your daughter and then turn that into the reward for doing her chores. It might also put things into perspective for her if you have a day where "mommy is too tired to do her chores" so maybe your daughter doesn't get that snack she wanted or doesn't make it to her friends or another appointment because "mommys just too tired"! Use her own excuse to illustrate the point. This has worked with my kids to help them understand that we all have responsibilities that we must do to help our family run smoothly!

Good luck!

I just briefly read over your other responses. You have lots of advice and I hope you're not feeling too overwhelmed. Some months ago, someone posted a similar request. One of the responses gave reference to a book called "Raising our children, raising ourselves". I have since read most of the book, and have to say it's my "2nd bible" on child rearing. It's an amazing book and talks about these exact situations and so much more. I checked it out from the library and then finally got my own copy from Amazon.com. If you're interested, you can read some of the reviews online about it. Good luck with everything!

What about organizing the toys into smaller bins and then only allowing out one bin at a time. Then she can't get out another bin until the one is put away. This will help her keep the mess within her range of attention. My 4 year old gets overwhelmed when there is a lot to do - or if it even looks like there's a lot to do. We divide up into smaller groups: i.e., now put away the blue legos, now the red, etc. and he does work better if I'm "helping".

Your children are awfully close together and I know that can be overwhelming, but while I think it's important to help out in a family, I also think that there's going to be a limit to how much a 3 or even 4 year old can understand about his/her contribution. It does sound like she's as tired of the battle as you are if she's not even bothered asking about the toys you threw away.

BTW, perhaps rather than tossing the toys you could tell her you were going to give them to someone who'd be happy to have them and take care of them. That way, if she doesn't take it seriously, someone can benefit.

Wow! Your daughter sounds pretty serious about making a point of resisting your efforts to use "leverage" to shape her behavior.
There are 2 paths here, that I see. Increase leverage (punishment/reward) until she submits. (In other words...parent wins with force.) Or find a way to get her cooperation. Telling a child they are part of a family and need to help sounds all very well, but it may just be a bit too abstract.
I'd take any instances where she was proud to help with anything and build on those, to re-establish a positive feel for helping.
I might add that sometimes kids attach negative connotations to certain words, especially after we use them close to "consequences". The words "help" or "pick up" may now be negative to her. Can you work around this by using some other expression until the bad taste wears off? (I have seen some of my students ABSOLUTELY hate the word "teach"...they prefer the expression "show"...as in "show me how to do this". I can accommodate that.)
Suggestions to provide some special time for her might also be in order. Sharing parents with other sibs is hard work for one so young.
Good luck!

All these moms had great advice. The only thing that I can add is that maybe you could try being proactive by means of how the toys are organized. To children this age, clean up can be overwhelming, especially if there are a lot of toys that have no rhyme or reason to how they are placed when put away. What some preschools do is have a "home" for everything, on a shelf or in a basket. Everything is labeled with a picture and the word. It is a lot of work for you to begin with but a lot easier in the long run. This also helps with pre-reading skills. Put big toys on shelves and take pictures of them. Tape the picture and the name of the toy to the shelf where it goes. Small toys can be organized by category into baskets (you can get cheap ones at the dollar store). This will be a good time for you to go through the toys and get rid of some that are broken, have a missing piece, or maybe your kids don't play with anymore. A lot of times, we have way too many toys for our kids. If there are a lot of toys and you don't want to get rid of them, put some in a big tub in the garage and change them out every once in a while. Then the toys will be like new again to your kids and they will have fewer to get out when playing. You can have your daughter help with this process too. It will give her some ownership of the newly organized toy area and she will be more likely to help keep it clean. When it is time to play, have your kids pick one thing to play with at a time and they need to put it back where it goes before they get out something new. You have to teach this, it will take time. This will also make it easier for your daughter to clean up. I hope this helps. Good luck!

I use positive reinforcement... at least I do first... my 3 YO (and my other kids) gets star stickers when they pick up their toys. At the end of the week, if they have all 7 stars (well, I do 5 out of 7 stars), they get to choose a little toy from the treasure chest (a cardboard box that I drew on to look like a treasure chest... then I just went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of toys to fill it.) If, at the end of the day, I have to remind them a couple of times to pick up their toys, they don't get the star. And if I have to pop my 3 YO on the bottom once (ah, the negative reinforcement), then she definitely loses the star for the day. It's worked well for my kids... especially after the first week when they got to get something from the treasure chest! They are so excited to go the the treasure chest each week! (And the toys are really inexpensive... like 10 little rings for a dollar and such.)

1 / 3
Required Fields

Our records show that we already have a Mamapedia or Mamasource account created for you under the email address you entered.

Please enter your Mamapedia or Mamasource password to continue signing in.

Required Fields

, you’re almost done...

Since this is the first time you are logging in to Mamapedia with Facebook Connect, please provide the following information so you can participate in the Mamapedia community.

As a member, you’ll receive optional email newsletters and community updates sent to you from Mamapedia, and your email address will never be shared with third parties.

By clicking "Continue to Mamapedia", I agree to the Mamapedia Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.