In my previous two posts I discussed the positives of mess and how it can add value to your child’s play experience. Then I talked about the time where mess was not functional; and shared my terms ‘functional and dysfunctional mess’. In this final post I will share some ways you can engage your child in cleaning up their mess without nagging or adding pressure. Some may work for your child and some may not. Trial and error is the only way. Can I encourage you to work on processes for tidying up with your child when they are calm, well rested and well fed! Make sure the conditions are just right for learning something new!

So here goes, 12 tips for supporting your child to clean up their own space

Use a Visual Schedule or Communication Tool

Using pictures on a visual schedule can send a clear message to your child that the expectation is to clean the space before they move on to dinner, or the television or the bath etc. A simple chart the says FIRST and THEN could help here. You place a picture of the child packing up underneath the word FIRST then you place a picture of the child doing their next activity underneath the word THEN. This way they can see that first on the list of things to do is to pack up and then they can move on to their next activity. Using visual communication is quick and effective. It means you don’t have to speak at all in some cases. It means that children with language or hearing issues STILL get the message that cleaning the space before transitioning is their responsibility. I am a BIG fan of this.

Create a Playroom Motto or Manifesto

In your playroom you could write a manifesto or a motto with your children. One that involves respecting and caring for the space. Keeping it tidy and cleaning up our play once we are finished. Your children could decorate it and make it looks beautiful. The you could frame it and display it in the playroom for you to refer to every day. It will serve as a nice reminder that their playroom is to be cared for and it is their responsibility.

Use a Clean Up Song

Choose a song with your children and whenever the kids hear that song they need to race around the playroom and pack up their mess before the song finishes.

Make it a Game

Sing songs together, get your children to race, set a timer and try to beat it, have a cleaning dance party while they do it… basically add in any fun way to make it a game!

Do it Together

Sometimes the mess can be really overwhelming for your child; so offer some help and do it with them.

Have a tidy space in the first place with a CLEAR place for everything so they know where everything goes.

This one is imperative to a quick and easy clean up! If your child doesn’t know where everything goes then they can’t effectively and independently clean up. Make sure the playroom is neat, tidy and inviting at the beginning of every day so your children have a clear expectation of what it it supposed to look like after they are all done.

Less is More

Filling the playroom with too much stuff is a recipe for disaster. The more there is, then the more chance of making mess. More mess, more overwhelm, more avoidance and less personal organization! Put toys away in storage and get a rotation happening to make sure your playroom isn’t too jam packed!

Make the space accessible for children so they CAN do it themselves

Try to store things low and easy to access! If the kids can reach it themselves then they are more likely to complete the pack up independently. Use easy to open storage boxes or containers so they don’t get frustrated fiddling with lids!

Don’t spend all day cleaning

Try not to focus on the mess too much by making your child clean all day. Once it becomes laborious it will be even harder to engage your child.

Give them some guidance or steps

Giving your child steps so they don’t feel overwhelmed can help alleviate some of the stress for your child. Say “put your cars away first.” Then “put your rainbow away.” There is nothing wrong with offering this support and being the organized thought for your child.

Don’t fix it up once it’s done

Be sure to encourage their efforts and try not to whip around and make the playroom Insta worthy immediately after they’re done. If they see you fix up their work then why would they clean in the first place?

Try rewards

Have a chart with stickers. Each time they clean up the space independently then they can have a sticker. While this is extrinsic motivation (I am not the biggest fan of this) some kids, and most of our toddlers in particular, respond really well to this type of reinforcement. There is plenty of time to teach intrinsic motivation, and maybe now isn’t the time for your little one.

I hope that you have found this 3 part series on mess helpful! If you have any thoughts, ideas or questions please email me or pop them in the comments! Let’s chat!

A xo