Cleaning up toys at the end of the day can drive any sane parent crazy.
When my son was 2.5 years old, my husband and I were getting so frustrated with my son’s great ability to dawdle while cleaning.
We’d watch him “clean” and get so angry that he played, got distracted, or just went slower than we’d like.
Since clean up time is at the end of the day, our patience was already running thin, so we’d end the day being frustrated and angry at our son. Neither one of us wanted that and we knew something had to change.
So, I got thinking. What if we could find a way to clean, give him a natural consequence if he took forever, and still end the day on a good note?
A plan was made.
We set a timer and when the timer goes off he runs upstairs to put on pajamas.
After that, he has 45 minutes to clean up his toys before the next timer goes off.
If he finishes with time left over, he gets to do something fun that he chooses (puzzles, board games, tablet time, horseplay, read books).
If he doesn’t finish, it’s just bedtime. (We do still spend time with him reading books for our normal bedtime routine.)
We give him the responsibility of cleaning as well as the understanding that if he chooses not to, than he loses something. It’s all up to him.
A few notes:
Clean during the day: Our evening time mess is not too bad because we clean up a little bit throughout the day. If he’s done with playdough, it gets put away. Not playing with those blocks anymore, get those up too. We also do a big clean up (with a timer, lots of time, and a reward) before naptime. This way, when it’s bedtime, the mess isn’t too big for him to handle.
Give lots of time: 45 minutes is a TON of time for cleaning up, and we do that intentionally. We want to set him up for success. We know that he is still young and get distracted easily, especially when interacting with his toys. So, we give him a lot of time to be successful.
I can’t watch: I try very hard not to watch him clean. It drives me crazy to see how slow he can be and to watch him play with every single toy that he touches. I just want to scream “JUST PUT IT AWAY!!”. So, I stay out of it most of the time.
Lend a hand: There are some days when his younger brother makes a huge mess, or we are running late for whatever reason, and he needs a helping hand, we will gladly jump in and help. We do not help if he’s just playing around and running out of time.
Let them fail: We don’t jump in and rescue just because he is running out of time. There is a consequence in place already for that. I do find myself reminding my son that he’s running out of time, but I don’t help.
Since implementing this 2 years ago, he now cleans up without any fights, and the majority of the time he gets his special time.
We don’t fight with him and we don’t end our day angry.
It’s pretty wonderful.
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You are a genius! I’m starting this tonight!
Thanks Cristy. Not sure I’m a genius, but it’s a routine that works wonders for us. I hope it helps!
I really like this idea! I have two 3 year olds- any suggestions on how to do this with both of them and make sure that it’s fair?
Sure, give them each specific “jobs” (one gets the toys, the other puts the couch cushions and blankets away or one picks up the living room and the other their bedroom/playroom… just find some way to divide the task)
Awesome! Thanks for the tip!
Yea…we don’t really play fair…haha. It’s everyone picks up everything. My youngest is only 19 months old, but he is pitching in and picking up too. My 4 year old picks up toys, no matter who plays with them. If the mess is mainly because of my toddler, we’ll pitch in to help. I’d just say that toys are toys, and since the toys belong to both kids, they are both kids’s responsibility to pick up. But, that’s just what we do.
I like the sound of this but not sure how to implement. Dinner/bath/bed routinue starts at 5pm and I’d have to push 7pm bet-time out to find time for this. I do get some help with toys but often either leave a mess or do it myself. My daughters are 3yrs and 15months old. Way too grumpy before tea usually to attempt then (and not sure id be able to juggle preparing tea with special time) Any suggestions welcomed. (Thanks)
Michelle, play around with it some. We eat dinner at 6 and kids are in bed at 8. However, my son has gotten super fast with cleaning, so he can get more special time. So, we give him 45 minutes, but it takes less…more like 15-30 (depending on how much he plays). It is harder during bath nights. On those nights I make sure that we spend some time cleaning together before I make dinner. Then then the mess he has to clean up is only the mess he makes while I’m cooking. Also, we pick up throughout the day, so there isn’t a huge amount of clean up to do before bed. Hope this helps!
Kelly @ IdealistMom.com
Love this trick, Amanda! Pinning now. 🙂
I do something similar with my girls (5 and 3). They get the fun time with mom or dad if they finish with extra time but whatever they don’t finish goes into a “monster bag”. They get the toys back from the monster bag when they have finished cleaning on time for 2 nights in a row. With my girls the extra time with me is great but really not enough of an incentive to stop playing instead of cleaning so the monster bag really helps. It’s also helping me to see that they really have more toys then they need and more then the can clean on their own.
I love the monster bag idea! We tried something similar with my oldest when we started this. But, he’s the opposite and didn’t care about the toys being taken away. He’d even say…”okay, I’m done cleaning, you can take away the rest…I don’t care.” So…we cut that out pretty quick.
Once again, each child is motivated by different things!
I think this might work well for us, even my special needs son. It’s very simple. I’ve somewhat been doing a similar routine. I try to have him clean up around 6 p.m. (bed is at 8, but he’s already tired) and when he’s done cleaning, I do an activity with him. It seems to work pretty well. And he cleans really fast that way 🙂
Great idea! Though, you mentioned cleaning up during the day, putting playdough or blocks away as he is done playing with them. How do you get him to do THAT? My issue with my kids is that they bounce from one area to the next like a tasmanian devil and leave destruction in their path. I try but fail to get them to pick up during the day. They just won’t pick up after themselves. Suggestions anyone?
I find just telling them they can do the next activity when the last one is cleaned up really works. However, you have to keep things out of their reach, so only you have control.
Susen @ Dabbling Momma
I find that making “clean up” a song turns the act of cleaning up the toys a game in and of itself. I love that I just have to start cleaning and my 2 1/2 year old automatically starts cleaning up 🙂
What do you do our say to child who comes to you to play or asks for help while they are cleaning? Especially is your not watching and therefore not in their vacinity?
Rachel @ A Mother Far from Home
This is genius! I am like that, “just put the flipping toys away for goodness sakes……” Ha!
I have a 3.5 year old and two year old twins. My only boy (one of the twins) is the one who doesn’t pick up and makes a mess while the other two clean up.
When you said you take something away when they don’t finish, what do you take away? One of my resolutions is to not yell as much and to help my kids learn to clean up. When they don’t finish cleaning what would you suggest taking away?
Thank you for sharing, Amanda. This sounds like a great way to motivate and instill responsibility. I also appreciate the reminder to yourself that you should not watch your son clean, it would drive me bonkers too.
This worked so well for us I had to come back and say thank you! We have tried everything, even the timer before (for shorter times) and nothing has ever worked. But I did just what you said – set the timer (30 min for us because it’s a small room), and then left him to it. He was done with five minutes to spare! He got to watch a movie before bed as his choice activity. And I wasn’t mad, or yelling, or feeling like I had steam coming out of my ears. I hope this continues to work because it was awesome not to fight about clean up! And he was So so proud.
I love this idea and really want to make it work. How do you suggest I start this routine with two 2.5 year olds? Should I clean up with them the first few nights? Should I start with smaller time limits so they can experience success? I just don’t think mine would complete the task esp with 45 mins. I have tried involving them in clean up before but it results in them pulling everything back out again. ? The consequence of not having extra play time, etc will not make a difference to them either. Is it possible they’re not mature enough for this?
This is a great tip for getting kids to clean up. I use a similar trick for getting my son to get dressed in the morning.
Love these tips! What do you use as the rewards or special time? I feel like TV isn’t the best choice in our house, but I would love to hear what works in your house.
Great blog post! I just stumbled onto your page. We struggle with getting our little ones to clean too…I LOVE the idea of the timer. It almost turns it into a game. Will try that this week! Thanks 🙂
I really love this idea! So help me here. What if they are not motivated towards special time? It seems like nothing motivates them. I am sure this is because of something I am doing. I am pretty desperate to help them build good habits but my relationship with them suffers because all we do is fight so i just end up song it all my self. Thanks for the help!