Smart Secrets for Establishing Good Family Habits

Getting the Kids to Clean Up

Why to Do It

cleaning up

Life would be much easier if kids cleaned up after themselves, but teaching little mess-makers to be tidy can be exhausting. Even though it's twice the work and takes more time, teaching kids to pick up after themselves is worth the effort. "It teaches them responsibility and the importance of taking care of one's things," says Lerner. "And it shows them they're capable, important contributors to the family, which builds self-esteem and teaches them the value of cooperation."

How to Do It

  • Limit clutter. Enforcing the standard rule of "We don't take out a new toy until we've put the last one away" is often easier if the toy selection is limited. "We keep most of the toys in the basement," says Heather Musil, a mother of two in Minneapolis, "and in the playroom we allow just three buckets of toys at a time." Make sure every toy has a designated place where it belongs, within the reach of little arms.
  • Make it fun. Singing one of those silly cleanup songs is surprisingly effective for motivation. If that isn't enough, try playing a game like "mailman" -- have your child load up a wagon or dump truck with stray toys and deliver them to the right destination.
  • Applaud effort. Remember to give A's for effort, even if it doesn't exactly get the job done. And if you encounter a lot of resistance, try not to dig in your heels; move on and try again later. "If you teach the kids to clean up in a way that's not onerous, they will copy your behavior," Dr. Wilkoff says.

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