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Children ages 2 and up can pitch in with many different kinds of tasks, like picking up their own clothes and toys, helping clear plastic dishes from the table, and walking with piles of junk mail to the recycling bin. Offer your child a mini bucket and sponge to help you wipe off the table after dinner. Once your kid can tell the difference between colors, ask for her help when you're sorting laundry. The key is to show him how and to make the chores as toddler-friendly as possible. Other ideas to make cleanup easy:
• Make sure everything has a place. Say, for example, you want your son to put away his Legos when he's done playing. Try cutting out a picture of Legos from a catalog or printing one from the Internet and then taping it to the Legos bin. He'll recognize the picture -- making the task more exciting for him -- and soon, with your help, he'll understand where his Legos belong at the end of each day. Also, mount a peg rack on the wall, low enough for your kid to hang up his own coat.
• Break down bigger jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks. When you ask your child to clean her room or put away her toys, she'll probably feel overwhelmed and, as a result, do nothing. Try turning cleanup into a game or activity: First ask her to go into her room and pick up all the paper, then have her go in and collect all the Barbies, for example.
• Get the whole family involved. Give each family member a different colored basket, then turn on some lively music and spend 10 minutes or so straightening up the house. This teaches good cleaning habits but makes it a fun game too. And, even better, you won't be the only one on cleanup duty anymore. --Katie Rockman
Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2007. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.