Make Clean-up Time Fun For Your Toddlers

When it comes to parenting toddlers, one common problem is that toddlers like to take their toys out, but they are not so keen on putting them away.

The reason is very natural.  Clean-up time is just not a whole lot of fun for anyone.  At least that’s the way your kids (and probably you) have been conditioned.

In my house we’ve changed this by anchoring a positive feeling to the whole cleanup process.  When I say “anchoring a positive feeling” I mean that we have established a ritual that is fun for the kids, so it makes them feel good.  Since the fun is connected to clean-up time it literally programs their brains to enjoy clean-up time.

What do we do?  We play a particular song and sing along while we put away the toys.  The song is “Dreamer” by Supertramp.  It’s a fun song and we’ve come up with our spoof version of it at home.  Basically we substitute the word “Clean-up”  instead of “Dreamer”. Really complicated (not!)

“Clean-up …everybody clean-up… Put Your hands in the air oh oh …”

The kids probably think that these are the real lyrics.  We call it “The clean-up song” at home.  When my youngest daughter was just learning to speak she would shout out at the “oh oh” part because she could not sing the rest.  And she did it with such enthusiasm and excitement!

One day I’ll teach them the real lyrics so they don’t get made fun of when they are older.  It reminds me of this one “Saturday Night Live” skit where they talk about songs that are commonly sung with the wrong lyrics.  “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix was on the list because some people sing “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”.  What a laugh!

Anyway back to the point of all this:  My kids enjoy the clean-up process because we (parents) are actively involved and we’ve turned it into a fun activity with an attached feel-good song.  That’s why it works.  There are no fights.  I just put on the song and start singing.  You can do this with any activity and make it fun.

I teach you how to use the process of anchoring in my audio course on dealing with toddler behavior.

Enjoy your children,
Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

4 Responses to Make Clean-up Time Fun For Your Toddlers

  1. jay March 15, 2009 at 5:16 pm #

    nice parenting blog.

    my son is one and half years old and he really like to take all the things out (not just toys..foods from basket..clothes from wardrobe etc).

    sometimes i teach him how to clean up by holding his hand and put the things back in a fun way.

    i’ll try your technique here. thanks chris.

  2. Chris Thompson March 19, 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    Thanks Jay. At 18 months kids LOVE to just take things apart and there isn’t much stopping them unless you get them occupied with something else. For a busy parent this is not always what you want to hear but “something else” usually means you need to get involved so they lose interest in the cupboard full of food or drawer full of clothes.

    You could also empty out ONE drawer that you dedicate to him. Put all kinds of junk in it that appeals to toddlers. LET him take it all out and make a mess. If you use the right stuff, cleanup will be easy and it won’t be a problem to have him empty out this drawer on a daily basis. He’ll understand that it is “his” drawer.

  3. Kristal April 21, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    I have a 22 month old who is just not willing to help clean up. We also use a Clean-up song, “Clean-up, clean-up, Everybody gets a turn, Clean-up, clean-up, (insert child’s name) turn.” My 3 1/2 starts to clean up when hearing this song but my 22 month old is just not following her older sister’s actions. My youngest is very strong willed and I do not want to break her spirit, but what do you do when the song idea doesn’t work?

  4. Chris Thompson April 27, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Kristal – for whatever reason it sounds like your youngest just isn’t taking to this. The idea behind the technique is to reframe clean up time into a game, making it fun. If it isn’t working I’d just try something else. Here’s one idea: I call it being silly. Ask your youngest if a certain toy goes “here” .. (picking a silly place like a kitchen cabinet, etc). You’ll usually find the child will say “no!” and eventually get into it by showing you where the toy goes. That’s just an idea. Hope it helps!

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