12 Tips for Teaching Little Ones to Clean up

I was so impressed when I saw this!

I’ve been asking Sweet Pea to help me clean up for what feels like forever. It started with her watching me, then doing one thing and wandering off, and slowly getting more and more helpful. But, it’s something we’ve been working on for like 2 years now. Almost every single time we need to clean up, we do it together. And, most of the time, it is quicker to just do it myself, but then she doesn’t learn anything, except that if she makes a mess, I’ll clean it up. And, that’s definitely NOT the message I want to send. I need less work, not more.


So, we clean up together. Even if it’s borderline torturous for me. Sometimes, having two little ones “helping” can be more of a hindrance than anything. But, even if it takes 2 years before she’s able to do it on her own, it’s worth it in the long run. And, since Buddy Boy has Sweet Pea to watch, he’ll probably learn to clean up a bit sooner than 2 years. He already is starting to help us, all on his own. I’m hoping for more of this, even if this is the exception and not the norm right now. After all, I did only tell her once to clean up… 😉 But, consistency might finally be paying off now…


But, if your littles are anything like mine, cleaning up can be a stressful and frustrating time, and what happened earlier isn’t the norm. Here are some tips and ideas to make it a little easier!


How can we get our little ones to clean up?

  1. Ask them to help. Then, be specific in telling them what to do (how to help). “Put all the red pieces away in this container.” or “Pick up 5 cars from over there (pointing) and put them here.” Not just, “clean up this mess.”
  2. Clean up with them.
  3. Clean up half of it so that it doesn’t look as overwhelming (even something we know only takes 3 minutes to clean up can look like a lot and an overwhelming mess to little ones).
  4. Play a song (the “Clean up” song, or your own).
  5. Set a timer and try to beat it.
  6. Race each other to clean up certain tasks. “You clean up the doll clothes by putting them in there and I’ll put away the play food. Let’s see who finishes first!”
  7. Clean up throughout the day. Smaller messes = less time and less overwhelming
  8. Practice what you preach. Let your kids see you cleaning up too. Talk about it and make sure you have a positive attitude when you’re cleaning up your own stuff (and theirs too).
  9. Remind them of the expectations before they start. Remind them that it needs to be cleaned up when they’re done.
  10. If you see things getting a bit “crazy,” remind them that they’ll need to pick it up when they’re done. This often helps stop Sweet Pea from “going crazy”  as she says when we’re doing an activity with small parts (or lots of pieces).
  11. Be clear and firm with your directions. “I need you to clean up your ___.” Don’t add an “okay?” at the end. They’re directions, not a request. The “okay” makes it optional. What are you going to do if your child says, “no” to your request? Don’t make it a request. “When we’re done playing, we clean up our stuff and put it away.
  12. Make it a “game” to clean up.


A few things to remember…

  1. Learning to clean up is a process. Help your child by breaking that process into smaller steps. Do it with him/her.
  2. Be consistent and clear in your expectations. If you’re not requiring your child to help clean up EVERY single time, let him/her know why you’re doing the work instead.
  3. The younger your child is, the more time it’ll probably take for him/her to be able to clean up independently.
  4. Be clear in your directions. And repeat them often.
  5. If something’s not working, try it another way.
  6. Cleaning up throughout the day means multiple opportunities to practice and smaller messes to clean up.
  7. Don’t expect perfection. Your relationship with your child is more important than a spotless room. It’s okay to come back later to finish cleaning up, or to complete it yourself after your child goes to bed/for a nap. At least they started the process with you! It’ll get better with time.
  8. Remember your end goal- to teach your little one to clean up independently. Keep working towards that, even if it’ll save you time in the short term to do it yourself. Resist that urge! 🙂


What are your go-to methods for getting your little one(s) to help clean up? Join the discussion by commenting below or on my Facebook page. 🙂