Getting kids to clean up after themselves doesn’t have to be a chore. Try these simple but effective strategies for encouraging kids to clean up without a fight.My children are brilliant. They already understand concepts of physics that I didn’t learn until college. What?!? That’s right, my boys have officially mastered the second law of thermodynamics.
“What is the second law of thermodynamics?” you ask. Let me explain. It’s all about ENTROPY.
Entropy is a measure of disorder in a system. You’re beginning to see why kids are experts at this, right?
The second law of thermodynamics states: “Changes occurring in natural systems always proceed in such a way that the total amount of disorder in the universe is either unchanged or increased.” (Source)
The common example given to illustrate this law is that of an apple decaying. If left alone, an apple will increase in disorder as it decays over time. You never see a pile of mushy decayed apple reform into a crispy, shiny piece of fruit. That would be contrary to this law of nature.
My boys effectively demonstrate this concept daily. If left alone, they will automatically increase the disorder of anything they encounter…and quickly! It’s a law of nature.
Take a look at the before/after pictures below:
The first is a picture of my kitchen right after I cleaned the floor. See how pretty it looks? The second was taken just ONE HOUR later. Seriously.
See? My kids are brilliant physicists!
The problem is that cleaning doesn’t come as naturally to my kids as making messes does. Bummer.
However, I have a few tricks up my own sleeves, and I’ve figured out over the years how to get my kids to clean up with minimal complaining.
6 tried-and-true ways to get kids to clean up
1. Clean with them
It would be ideal to say, “clean up this mess” and have it be done, but that’s not realistic for a four-year-old and a two-year-old. By getting on the floor with them and cleaning together, I send the message that this is a team effort and I’m able to keep the momentum going (since a certain four-year-old I know has an impressive ability to get “distracted”).
2. Give each child a specific task to complete
“Clean up the toys” is too broad for little minds to process. Help them break up a larger task into smaller chunks by suggesting, “Pick up the blocks and put them in this bucket” or “Find all the pieces to the fire truck puzzle.” In addition to getting them cleaning, you’re also walking your kids through the process of tackling projects that seem overwhelming…a valuable life skill.
3. Give kids choices
The power of choice is important to kids. So much of their daily life is chosen for them that kids (especially toddlers) fight for any amount of control they can have (this strategy applies to so many more things than cleaning…it’s how we survived the terrible twos). You don’t have to give them a choice to clean or not to clean, but you can give them some control over the situation by asking, “Do you want to start with the Legos or the books?”
4. Make it part of your daily routine
We typically try to clean up one activity before moving on to another one, but sometimes the kids get busy playing and I don’t enforce it. However, every day we have a quick 5-10 minute tidy before lunch, before dinner, and before bedtime. My boys know we will do this, and they are pretty good about it because it’s just part of our daily routine. By cleaning up a few times throughout the day, it keeps the mess from getting too overwhelming. Plus, this way I don’t spend my precious quiet time cleaning up their messes. Win, win!
5. Give incentives
I’m all about bribery in moderate amounts. It doesn’t have to be candy or toys (goodness knows we don’t need more toys!), but it’s important to show kids positive natural consequences. For example, try explaining, “When we’ve cleaned up the trains, we’ll have more room on the floor for a dance party.” Or, use a fun trip to the park or library (especially if you’re already planning to go anyway) as motivation to clean up: “When we get these toys cleaned up, then it will be time to go to the park!” (Read more here about the power of “when-then” statements).
6. Make it a game!
- Clean by color – Put all the red Legos away, then the yellow, etc.
- Race! – Little Man loves to guess which thing can be cleaned up the fastest and then have a race with me. He’ll tell me, “I bet I can clean the trains up before you clean up the Lincoln Logs!”
- Play the Super Spy Clean Up Game – Think of secret code names, set a timer, and clean the room before the “bomb” goes off! This is by far my most successful way to get kids moving. I’ve used it with my own kids, neighbors, nieces and nephews, and any other random children who happen to be around when there are toys to pick up. 🙂 Read more about how the game works here.
My house is not perfectly clean. If it was, it would probably mean my kids were watching too much TV and aren’t making enough creative messes. However, by using these strategies with my kids I’m able to keep our home looking relatively presentable and teach them about working as a team and contributing to the family.
Do you have any fun ways to encourage kids to get cleaning? Please share!