3 Fresh Ways to Motivate Your Preschoolers to Clean Up!


At some point almost all preschoolers decide they don't want to clean up their messes. Kids who were once happy to clean up, can suddenly try one or more of these diversionary tactics.

They might:

  • leave the room

  • get distracted by everything and anything including the dust bunny under the cupboard that's been there for weeks

  • hide under the bed, table or any other handy piece of furniture

  • pick an argument or fight with another child in order to distract you

  • move as slowly as humanly possible

  • grab a toy out of a siblings hand to put away before picking anything up from the floor even though there are at least 72 other choices

  • laugh and run around

  • refuse

I guess you can't blame a kid for trying but sometimes it seems like just cleaning up would be a whole lot easier and quicker than putting up such a fight!

So what's an exhausted mom to do? Cleaning it up yourself is sometimes quicker but is that really teaching them what you want them to learn? Probably not so here are 3 of my best tactics for clean-up magic after 43 years as a child and family educator working hands-on with young children every day.

These techniques are simple to do and they don't make you feel like a mean mom.

Technique #1

Say, "You work, I work. You stop, I stop." Then do it. Only pick up something after you see them pick up something. Stop helping as soon as they stop working. Repeat until the job is done.

This is the perfect teaching method because they get rewarded with your help when they work. Plus they get the natural and logical consequence of losing your help every time they stop working.

It's always amazing to me how fast kids can pick up toys once they get going.

Technique # 2

Say,, "When you're done picking up the living room, we can move on to the next fun activity." Then you have to make sure that they're not allowed to play with anything until they do as you've asked. Plan this out ahead of time so you don't have a time constraint and you really can wait them out. Make sure the activity after clean up is a desirable one for everyone, like going to a playground or playing with play dough.

Allow only 3 exceptions, eating, sleeping or going to the bathroom after which they go right back to doing nothing until the job is done. Choose a day and time that is open and be prepared to wait them out for as long as you have to.

Technique #3

Capitalize on any small effort you see by saying this. "That was helpful, Stuart! You got started with the cars." This is the absolute best way to teach a child what you want, especially if you take the time to describe in detail just what it was that you liked so much and how it actually helped. Saying "That was helpful" is completely different than saying "Good job" so don't confuse the two.

There you have it! My top 3 methods for getting young children to clean up happily. One thing I've noticed over the years is that when a child is trying really hard to get out of cleaning up, they are often not happy with themselves and if we can use one of the 3 methods above to get them started cleaning, they help and they shine!

One thing is sure, it takes patience, energy and effort to get kids to clean up for all of the right reasons. If you need help finding more energy, click here.

I'm also posting some of my best energy boosting snack ideas that can be enjoyed by both kids and the adults who care for them. It's just easier that way. n.joy!

Energy Boosting Snack Ideas

Omega-3 gluten free bread (5 minute microwave recipe here) PB, and blueberries.

Organic strawberries with cashews* and goat cheese, full fat or coconut milk

Sugar snap peas, nitrite free ham, strawberries

Apples and mild cheddar cheese, PB, full fat or coconut milk

Grass-fed beef meatballs, oven roasted zucchini in mild garlic and olive oil, almond milk

Berries and full fat cream (or coconut milk) and nuts*

*nuts can be a choking hazard for children under 4!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all around fun loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.


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