7 Simple Tips To Stop Fighting With Your Toddler About Toy Cleanup

mom and toddler sitting on floor playing getting ready to get toddler excited about cleaning up the toys

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Your Plan of Action to Get Your Toddler Excited about Cleaning Up the Toys

Toddlers love to help you clean the house!

Therefore, it doesn’t make sense why cleaning up their own toys can take intense persuasion when you can’t even pry the vacuum cleaner away from them when you’re trying to get the floor clean!

It can be frustrating, although a bit comical, how toddlers think cleaning is fun until it comes to cleaning up their toys!

A toddler can whiz through a house like a pint-sized tornado that leaves behind a path of humongous disaster!

In a matter of minutes, all the books can be moved from a neat order on the bookshelf to an unkempt pile on the floor, half the toys in the toybox are strewn all over the bedroom floor, and the colors that were neatly lined in the crayon box are scattered throughout the kitchen, living room and bathroom!

Then amazingly when you request it’s time to clean-up, your toddler doesn’t think cleaning is such a fun task and definitely not a great idea (especially at this specific time!)

Have you experienced this with your toddler?

These tips can help make the necessary habit of cleaning up a not-so-hated task.

1 | Be flexible

oddler girl building with legos

I understand the importance of toddlers (and littles in general) doing what you ask when you ask. However, if they are in the middle of something and you are ready to clean up, let them finish if there is not a dire emergency.

In other words, wait for a natural break.

Have you ever had someone at work, a spouse, etc., ask you to do something and you were in the middle of your own thing and wanted to find a stopping place before hopping up to help? For example, if you were reading and in the middle of the page you would probably want to finish that page or even the chapter if you were near the end.

Littles are just that – little people – so it is important to remind ourselves they have the same tendencies as we do as big people.

Over the years I worked with parents and children as a school counselor, I saw situations like this escalate into something so big, and it was unfortunate because it was so preventable.

The parent would ask the child to do something, the child would try to finish up what they were working on, and the parent would get angry and start the ‘I said now’ rant without taking any consideration that they would want to do the same thing in the child’s situation.

This doesn’t mean to let the ‘I need to finish this’ attitude overrule everything when it is being taken advantage of; however, this is easily solvable with proper guidance and conversation even with an older toddler (close to the age of three.)

It is important to respect the fact that your child wants to finish a task even though it may not be important to you.

This goes hand-in-hand with the second option in #6 (below).

Quick Tip

If your little is working on a project that takes extra time and he/she isn’t finished, designate a place to keep it for finishing later.

Examples might be a Lego project, track for trucks or cars, coloring a picture, etc.

2 | Make the job seem small

Pick out a small corner of the room and finish cleaning that area before moving on to another small area.

Think of this the same as when you may feel overwhelmed decluttering so you break a room into small areas and focus on that smaller space first.

Another method is to divide the cleanup activity into similar toys. For example, pick up all the trucks first, next pick up all the Legos, etc.

If you want them to learn to willingly help you, they need to be able to understand and see the end result.

We can help them see the light at the end of the tunnel by how we help them clean up. Focusing on one task at a time, he/she will feel less overwhelmed.

3 | Work together

mom helping toddler clean up toys

It is unrealistic to expect a toddler to know how to take good care of their toys by themselves and without being taught.

Cleaning up toys is a reflection of taking care of the toys and learning to appreciate them.

When we work with them to put their toys where they belong, we can walk them through the process each time and teach them how to care for their toys properly.

This is especially important for tougher jobs, like lining up books correctly on a bookshelf.

4 | Keep it fun

three little girls dancing excited about cleaning up toys

We all know everything in life isn’t fun!

However, there is nothing wrong with trying to make everything we can as fun as possible!

One way to keep cleaning up toys fun is to turn it into a game.

Some great examples to do this:

  • Set a kitchen timer and have a race for who can finish first.
  • As you put toys away play a color or counting game by pointing out shapes or colors as you sort the toys.
  • Make up a cleaning song and sing it as you clean up (add in some dance steps for extra giggles!)

You can also keep toy clean up fun by asking questions like:

  • I wonder how many yellow blocks you can find to put in the bucket?
  • Do you think you can get all the cars picked up before Baby Shark stops playing?
  • I wonder if you can fit all the blue and red blocks into the bucket?
  • Finish up the blocks with: I wonder if you can fit the green and yellow blocks into the bucket on top?

5 | Create a home for every toy

Kids bedroom with green walls and purple bed and may toys.

You have heard me call it the holy grail of decluttering, and that is the premise that every single item in your home must have its own home!

Your toddler’s toys are no different!

Every toy your toddler owns should have a place where it goes.

This will minimize chaos in your house as well as teach your toddler how to take care of their belongings and the importance of organization at a very young age.

Toy chests are not a good option for a  ‘home’ for toys. Throwing all the toys in one place does not keep them organized (so your toddler cannot find something if they are looking for it) nor does it teach kids to respect their belongings.

The best homes for toys are bins, baskets, deep shelves, and storage boxes or crates. Items like these will keep your toddler’s toys organized so they are not only easy to find, but they also make clean-up much easier when the child knows where something goes.

Top Amazon picks for toy storage

6 | Limit the number of cleanups

Toddlers have a short attention span.

For this reason it is essential to work on toy clean up in small spurts rather than long marathon cleaning sessions, and small areas rather than large areas.

As much as you may want your home to stay clean all day, you will make yourself crazy if you try to keep the house toy-free all day!

Your toddler will also get frustrated which will likely come out as negative behavior that will get them into trouble (but can be prevented by the parent, grandparent, etc.)

Depending on the age of your toddler, there are several different plans of action.

  1. Wait and clean up at the end of the day
  2. Clean up on a schedule throughout the day
  3. Clean up before something new is started

For a younger toddler clean-up once at the end of the day is likely the best choice.

Littles this age have a less organized play routine (for example, they are not building elaborate train tracks) so although they make a mess there are actually fewer toys strewn all over.

For an older toddler that is closer to the age of three the second or third option is likely the best plan of action.

A timer can be set throughout the day (I recommend 3-4 times) and when it goes off it is time to clean-up. Be aware of what your toddler is doing and let them complete an activity, being clear as soon as they are finished clean-up will happen before the next one is started.

This is a great choice because it teaches the importance of routines as well as reinforcing clean-up.

For the last option your toddler must put away one toy or the toys they are playing with (for example, Legos) before they start another activity or get out different toys.

This is a great option to teach the importance of keeping things picked up and clean, taking care of toys and belongings in general, and developing a habit.

childrens playing blocks on pinterest image to post 7 simple tips to stop fighting with your toddler about toy cleanup

7 | Use positive words that create excitement

mom having lunch with children

This tip will help with everything you do with your toddler, not just toy clean up.

Frame the wording in a positive way.

Instead of saying, “You can’t go outside until your toys are cleaned up,” say “As soon as you get your toys cleaned up we will go outside to play.”

Another example, instead of saying, “No lunch for you until your toys are all cleaned up,” try instead, “As soon as you get all your toys picked up we can eat lunch together.”

Keeping what we say positive creates a positive reaction from our littles. Focus on the incentive first rather than leading with a negative.

What has worked for you to motivate your toddler to help with toy cleanup?

Toddlers are loads of fun even when they challenge our patience!

They have such a narrow view of life at its finest, and they are so simple to please when we don’t expect perfection and willingly offer heaps of praise for even the smallest task. It doesn’t take much to earn a great big hug from a toddler! (And those are the best hugs ever!)

Hop down to the comments and share your favorite method to get your toddler onboard for toy clean up time! And please don’t forget to share and pin this post!

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