Kids can make a mess faster than adults can pick things up.

The Best Thing to Do When a Child Refuses to Pick Up After Himself

by Lee Grayson

Cleaning time need not be torture for you and your toddler. Holding your children responsible for their own stuff at a young age doesn't totally solve clean-up issues during teen years, but it makes the journey to high school easier. Preschoolers respond well to eye candy and movement, so incorporating fun into the cleaning helps defuse the refusal to tidy up.

Keep the Peace

Increasing the frequency, and the volume, of the clean up request won't get action from a child refusing to pick up after himself. Creating tension only makes the situation more complex, but that doesn't mean you need to give in to your child's refusal. A quiet request with a specific action helps get your toddler on track. Suggest an action such as, “Let’s put those blocks back in the box so we can eat our lunch.” Begin with a small request, using a direct action, to make the clean up more manageable.

Establish Routines

Establish a routine for the day, such as clearing the floor before a television show or making the bed before outside play. If your child refuses, keep the TV off and your toddler inside. Remind your child of the link between the two actions by saying, "We need to pick up the toys before television time." Stick to your guns to avoid problems during future clean-up times. Channel attention to the cleaning, but don't go ballistic about the slow speed of the progress. Give a warning a few minutes before asking for the clean up, and expect a little play during the job. If you want things picked up by a set time, request earlier action.

Make It Fun

Add special costumes to your daily routine to take the focus off the job and more on the process. Tell your toddler, “Let’s put on our cleaning sweater and get down to work.” Mr. Rogers of PBS fame has his special sweater, and you and your child can reduce tension during clean up by wearing your own special sweaters -- or gloves or hats. Combine your request with a five-minute warning, and then leave your child alone to prepare.

If your child refuses to move, tell you toddler, “Let's get on our special sweater,” and bring out the cleaning clothing. Put on your sweater and select an item. Lean over and state, while looking directly into your child’s eyes, “I’m putting you in charge of all the toys today, and I’d like you to show this toy how to jump into the toy box.”

Play Music

Chose a special song to sing for clean up or select a piece of instrumental music, if you really want to avoid belting out a tune. This teaches new songs, encourages movement and also establishes a clear time for the clean up. Establish the rules, including the cleaning timeline. Tell your toddler, “I’m putting on our song in five minutes. Let’s get ready for action!” Put on the tune, and by the time the song finishes playing, your child should have the cleaning done. Update the music selections as your child ages.

About the Author

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images