Expecting Too Much of a 4 Yr Old??

Updated on June 29, 2010
R.H. asks from Dallas, TX
24 answers

My 4 yr old HATES to help with picking up his own mess. I know he made the mess but any time I try and get him to put away or clean up his mess, he all of a sudden doesn't feel good and needs to lie down! : ) I know, he's gonna be an actor someday.

But in the meantime I really want him to help out, I even set up a rewards chart for him to put stickers on after he completes his pick up and he gets rewarded at the end of the week, but he has no interest. I try to make the picking up fun and posotive but he just has no interest at all. The ONLY time he really steps up and pitches in is when his friends are coming over and he's super excited. : ) I don't typically mind doing the pick up but I've been having a difficult painful pregnancy and really need my kids to help out more w/out them hating me! Any ideas to get him to help more? My 8 y/o DD is a great helper and he sees her getting rewarded for her helping but it doesn't phase him, he'd rather have no reward then help clean. And I'm not asking anything more from him then to help pick up his OWN toys!
I don't know if this is a typical boy thing or if he's too young........I'm really getting tired of picking up his messes but I hate being the mean mommy always nagging to pick up! He's my second child and the sweetest little boy but just hates to help out around the house.....am I expecting too much??
Thanks moms!

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answers from Rochester on

Jennifer T from Denton could have written my post. Except I don't have multiple kids and faced this from a childcare point of view. Kids never ever ever EVER wanted to clean up the dramatic play area. If they did, it got shoved into whatever crevis they could find instead of neatly put away (clothes on hooks, shoes set nicely in their designated area, hats hung up, stuffed animals in their spot and puppets on their stands) so eventually I got tired of it. I was also pregnant at the time and couldn't keep cleaning that up several times a day along with keeping the rest of the room in perfect order. Once I got to that point, and they did another cram clean up, I asked them to go read books in the library and it went into bags. Once they showed me they could clean it up, more than just the basics came back out and they gradually got more and more back. We had to do a few more of those but they did finally get it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I agree with trying not to allow the messes to get too big. With my kids, on the days that the messes are huge, we start with small tasks, ie... lets pick up the pretend food first, then it is alright good job, now lets pick up the pots and pans, ok good, now lets get the trucks picked up. If I just send them into the playroom with the mess they have no clue where to start. I think it is too overwhelming to get it done, but if I do it task specific I have much better luck getting everything put away. Plus 90% of the time the toys actually get put back into the correct spots! haha.

Good Luck!



answers from Pittsburgh on

When my kids were younger and now with my daycare kids, I try not to let the mess get too much. We clean up before snack, lunch, going outside etc, and sometimes just if there is too much stuff on the floor. I also tell them what they don't clean up, I will gladly do so but the toys will be put away for a couple of days. I don't make a big deal out of it, just a few reminders that we are having snack when they clean up or we will go outside when they are done. I also give reminders that I will put away what they don't clean up. I help to clean up a bit with them, but I stop if they stop.

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answers from Tulsa on

no takeaway the toys he doesn't pick up eventually he wil have none and get the point

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I found that the House Fairy was better than any sticker or reward chart!

Basically the House Fairy comes to the room when the kids are asleep (or not in the room) and leaves a surprise if the room is clean and fairy dust (confetti) if the room is not clean. She comes once a week, and you never know when she's coming so you have to keep the room clean at all times so you don't miss her!

Maybe it's the magic of the House Fairy, but it works! Our House Fairy shops at the dollar section of Target and she comes once a week.

There's even a website, www.housefairy.com. You can buy the videos and the system (we did just to support such a great idea) but you don't have to. My SD saw the videos and immediately went in her room and picked up 5 things. She's been great about keeping her room clean ever since.

I also like using a timer. I tell her she has to work for 9 minutes and she can stop...but she has to be WORKING (if she's not working then I pause the timer). Anything not done at the end of 9 minutes is okay. She likes knowing she can stop no matter what after the 9 minutes. You might try 4 minutes for your darling. Figure one minute of attention span per year of his life. Usually she likes trying to beat the clock, and she's ALWAYS done before the timer goes off!

You can do House Fairy for your 8-year old and I'll bet your 4-year old would love to join in! Even if your 8-year old doesn't believe in the House Fairy, she'll love pretending for her little brother and she'll still like receiving surprises.

Good Luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

here's my theory on toys: i don't play with them, so i don't clean them. i have an entire house to keep up with, as welll as caring for myself, my husband, three kids, and five dogs. once they're about 18 months, i begin training them to clean up their own messes. my boys were able to completely independantly clean up their bedrooms and playroom by the age of 2, and i expect it to look like it would look if i had cleaned it. the process is started by making sure things are accessible to them and organized in a fashion that is easy for them to see and understand. about a year ago, my two older children(3 and 6 at the time) were REALLY dragging around cleaning up the playroom one night, so, i pitched in an "cleaned up" for them... they now know that if i have to clean up their toys, they are going in a trash bag to be returned to them at some future time :) other than that, i seriously can't remember the last time i picked up toys. i do not think you're asking too much of a 4 year old, and you're not mean - nag nag nag until he gets it - then you'll be able to stop.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Huntsville on

My 4 year old daughter doesn't want to pick up her toys either!! She will pitch the biggest fit instead of picking up!

Her biggest reward/punishment system is the TV. She has a TV in her room & if she misbehaves, she doesn't get to watch TV! If she doesn't pick up her toys in her room like we've asked, the TV goes off until she's done it. If I pick her up from daycare & they tell me she hasn't been listening or otherwise acting up, no TV that evening. If she's good the next day, then she gets her TV back. She gets the idea real quick this way!!

If she gives us an extra hard time with picking up her toys, we go in with a garbage bag & pick up EVERYTHING off the floor. Then we put the bag (or bags... lol) in a closet outside that is locked so she can't get to them. This doesn't bother her quite as much as the TV, but she won't get those toys back until she has proven she can KEEP her room clean.

Another thing we do is to make sure she picks up her room EVERY night before bed. That was it's not as much of a mess. And on weekends, we go in and tell her several times a day that she needs to put away toys. It's been going better lately. WE just have to make sure we stay on top of it too!

She does love to play with coins, so we are thinking about implementing a small allowance for doing chores. Especially for helping out more than just cleaning her own room. Not sure on the $ amount yet tho. She'd probably be happy starting out with a penny or nickel per chore! haha

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Nope. I wouldn't say you're expecting too much... but then again, at 4 my son was:

- washing his own clothes with help (aka I had to lift him up to put the soap in)
- putting his clothes away on his own
- helping with dinner & breakfast (prep work, like stirring/ mixing/ ripping/ grating/ pouring/ measuring)
- Windex-King (whenever we were cleaning he windexed everything he was allowed to... cupboards, windows, doors, tv, mirrors) and a few things he wasn't allowed to
- mopping (with help)
- vacuuming (with help)

He didn't like to pick up his toys either (the only way we could was to set the timer and make it a "race")... because he didn't WANT them put away. He wanted them out where he could play with them.

How we finally got around the toy thing, was the 2 toy rule. He could leave 2 toys out that he was "working on" in the morning. The rest had to be put away.

We didn't make helping optional... but we did try and make it fun. AKA when it was time to clean he could choose what he wanted to do, but he had to actually do something. We also crank up the music and dance while we clean.

Lately he's tried the whole "dramatic I need a nap" thing. I fell for it twice. The third time I said he could take a nap if he didn't feel good... but that meant he had to be in bed for at LEAST 2 hours. LOL... he fell for it, tried to come down 15 later, then tried to play with his toys.

Sorry kiddo... you were too sick/tired to clean, so that means you need to be in bed asleep. Not playing or reading. Even though WE'RE done and playing now... YOU said you were too tired. So off to bed with you. ;)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I don't think you are expecting too much, but I did have to laugh out loud at your sons sudden illnesses at pick up time!

I am not the kind of Mom that thinks kids should do a ton of chores. I kind of think its okay to be a kid and have fun.......childhood doesn't last that long. But yes, you do want to teach a child to take care of himself in small ways and work up to the big stuff when he gets older.

I would also say not to make him pick them up perfectly or to your exact specs. Be happy if he gets the job done fairly well. If he suddenly becomes ill you can tell him, "no problem, you can do it before dinner." If at dinner time he hasn't done it send him back to do it then before he has dinner. Or it could be before you watch any tv, or before..........whatever you know will come up and he won't like having to pick up at that time. This is "Love and Logic" and it works!

Read the Love and Logic books.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

No, you are NOT expecting too much.
He's 4, and you are pregnant... maybe it is making him feel awkward.
Regardless, he has to help.
Be consistent.
Don't debate about it. Don't reward him. Don't bribe him.

I would, tell him that you need help... you are pregnant and you cannot do everything... and to help Mommy... as a "team" emphasize TEAM WORK... my son is 3.5, and he LOVES when I say "Team work".... or I just tell him point blank... he is a PART of a family and family helps each other. We are a TEAM. Or that I am busy/tired and we ALL try to help each other. And my kids do help. They put away.

I would not offer him 'rewards' for 'helping. Helping is helping. That is what family members do.

If he does not help, maybe tell him to pick up 4 things. With you. Maybe the idea of picking up EVERYTHING is overwhelming for him.

Or if he does not help at all... gather it up... and put it away in a closet. A toy time-out. Don't say anything, just do it. Then, he is smart enough to realize what is going on... just put his toys away where he cannot get it. He then has to realize or earn it back. Or put it in your room.

The thing is, you are also pregnant. When I was pregnant with my 2nd child, I explained in simple terms to my eldest, that Mommy being pregnant means I cannot do certain things like before/ that I need to rest/That I cannot bend over real easily/that I need 'help'/that I can't lift heavy things etc. But I made it in a comforting way... not 'demanding' it from her... I approached it in a 'team' type way... and that I am proud of her... for being thoughtful.... My eldest was about 3.5 when I was preggers with my 2nd child, and she was REALLY great about it all...

Or maybe your son is trying to get attention because you are pregnant... which is normal too. A young child can't always cope... nor adjust to it all.
Maybe he needs more one on one time...and just sit down with him and talk with him.... not judging/lecturing, but making him feel assured and peaceful about it....

A child this age CAN help and do chores. My son who is 3.5, can even scramble/cook his own eggs.While I supervise. He will even put his leftovers in the fridge, he will even put his dishes in the sink and get his own drink etc. You just have to teach them. And don't expect TOO much... so instead of cleaning up the WHOLE room... make it into smaller expectations... like have him pick up 4-5 objects and put it in a basket. Put in a timer. Put on a song... and when it stops, that is the end time.
Try making it more attainable...

just some quick ideas,
all the best,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

When mine were 4 I had age appropriate chores. Cleaning ones own mess was at the top. If they did not clean there own mess then they do not get to play. Real simple and he will not like it, but will do it if he wants to play with his toys. I was always a stickler with one toy at a time. when your done put it away before taking the next toy out.

Chores such as helping mommy put away clothes. Help with dishwasher. My kids also put clothes in the washing machine with help. Vacuuming and dusting is good also.

I did try to make it fun, but if that did not work then I was stern.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Muisc helps. We sing that old standard from Barney "Clean up clean, everybody do your share. Clean up Clean up, everybody everywhere." Dad added his own verses "little goes with little, big goes with big, clothes go with clothes," just to give the kids direction. Sometimes we have a cleanup party. I blast kid music - hey that's how I get motivated to clean, so I thought why not them too. They also do better if I give it to them in chunks. If I just ask them to pick up dirty clothes, then I ask them to pick up trash, it doesn't seem to overwhelm my 4 yr old as much. Dad has a rule that they can't play with any toys that day until they have picked up the ones from the day before.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

At age 4, he knows he's got you (thus far) by the short hairs! From now on, he only gets one toy (or one color book and colors)...If he opts to play with something else...NO,NO,NO until he puts his color book and colors away first. As for your eight year old's ability...don't compare one to the other....and don't pick up their TOY messes anymore.

At thier ages, they are old enough to ask to be excused from the table, clear their own plates, tidy their rooms, pick up their toys and also and help with other small household chores.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Hi, I set the timer on my cell phone for 5 min. and let the kids see if they can clean up before the timer is off. (I stop the timer for a few sec. without them knowing if they are having a slow night). I count the seconds starting at 10, then when its 4:50 I count down from 10- finish. They love to see if they can beat last nights time!! If they beat it we all jump up and down and scream and I tell them we have time for two bedtime stories since they worked so hard!! They are so proud of themselves and its a great bonding experience as they help each other pick up as fast as they can! Good Luck!! Oh Yeah...I cheer them on the whole time too!!!



answers from Flagstaff on

He is not too young. My kids have been helping pick up ever since they could walk and pick up things. It really just takes perserverance. Also if he is not obeying you need to not only make it fun but have consequences if he doesn't get it done. Be specific as to what you want him to put away.



answers from Dallas on

I agree with Dee's advice. This is in line with Love & Logic which emphasizes logical consequences. Carefully explain that whatever toys your child picks up, he gets to keep. Whatever toys you have pick up you get to keep for 3 days. Don't nag. Make sure he understands and then let his choose. If he chooses poorly, maintain your calm and follow through. My son is 4 and this usually works for him. Every few months, he has to test whether I will really follow through. I do and then we have another few months of good cleaning. I would continue to reward him, as well, when he doe clean up!



answers from Houston on

4 is not to young at all to help pick up toys. give him a consequence for not picking up the toys such as no computer time, no Wii time, or no what ever it is he likes to do. make sure he knows that it was his decision not to pick up and this is the consequence. I thought it was a little much but found it very productive!



answers from Norfolk on

Tell him if he picks it up he can have it again the next day but if YOU pick it up he cannot have it back for three days. Then follow through!



answers from Dallas on

I agree he is not too young. He may get overwhelmed. We are learning (girls ages 4&5) that a small mess is easier than a big one. My girls also came up with the idea that they want to chew bubble gum while they clean. I don't mind and they seem to do better actually. We do have chores but we call them contributions. Right now they do get paid for three of them and then there are a couple that are just expected; any of them we have to do we get paid. We pay in a constant amount per chore (like 10cents each per day) that way when we are at the store and they ask how much something is, I tell them the price and how many dimes that would take. It is neat to see their eyes as I say something is 40 dimes----they have put items back many times not ready to part with all their coins. We added the money part a few months ago to allow them to learn the value of money....it has been a great experience. But we call the money 'commission' not allowance. We want them to know that they are contributors to this family and most things we do are for free, but we want them to earn money not just be given it so that all the 'can I buy ___?' would be redirected to them seeing if they have earned enough. Anyways, just added this spin on to your issue....this system has helped with an overall attitude of helping.



answers from Chicago on

I've struggled with this issue w/ my 5 year old and the best things that work for us are: setting a timer, playing music, getting a little "treat" like a cookie when she's done, and breaking it down into smaller tasks. When the room is REALLY messy, she gets overwhelmed, so I'll pick one job for her like, put all of the Tinker Toys back in the bucket. Then I let her choose one job for me to do, and we keep breaking it down until it's done. I hate nagging too, so I just try to be creative and see what works with her. If you choose to use a reward, try to pick something he gets right away and doesn't have to wait til the end of the week to get.



answers from Minneapolis on

Definately not too young. My kids all have chores mt daughter now 5 has been in charge of getting all the laundry from every room since she was three, along with keeping her room clean, clothes put away...etc. Our son (just turned three) is now learning this task and our daughter will move to a new set of chores...in addition



answers from Provo on

With my older kids when I picked up the toys I kept them. Now I am less patient and I tell my youngest son, "You don't pick up the toys, you don't eat!"
I sometimes use a system where he can earn his time for video games. computer, etc...


answers from Dallas on

My daughter has had a "chore" since 2. Her chores are the same amount as her age. So she is 6 now and has 6 chores.

When she was four her chores were:
1. Make sure room is clean
2. Make her bed
3. Folded Towels and her clothing
4. Took trash from bathrooms to "big trash" in kitchen.

I use to run a daycare with 300 kids most parents still treat their 4 and 5 yos as if they are toddlers and that is what they become accustomed to. If you expect more out of them then they will preform.

Have you tried the marble trick with him? this works great with boys:
Read up on it here:

This explains it but I have always done it as if they dont listen add a "black" marble. At the end of the week you take out 2-4 good ones per black one..



answers from Indianapolis on

I don't mind being the mean mommy. I think it's my job to instill good values, and one of them is shared responsibility.

We have the same issues in our house. Our 4 year-old acts like he doesn't mind cleaning-up, but he begins to play with the toys again instead of putting them away.

I think you need to find what motivates him. It sounds like his sister has a different personality and is motivated differently. You should not be expected to clean-up after him (especially if this pregnancy is hard on you).

If her were my child, I'd start taking things away that he does look forward to when he doesn't. If it's a friend's birthday party, a trip to the park, a TV show, one of the toys, impose a punishment for not doing what's expected.

If he magically isn't feeling well, I'd send him to bed so he can "rest".

Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy. I hope it's uneventful.

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