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How to Teach Toddlers To Clean Up After Themselves

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As a parent of a toddler, some days it feels like we spend all our time picking up after them. Toys all over the floor. Food mess on the table…or the floor. Clothes, shoes, and anything else they can get their hands on scattered everywhere. They leave a trail of mess everywhere they go. 

You can save yourself a lot of time, and start encouraging responsibility in your toddler from an early age, by encouraging them to tidy up. In fact, toddlers love to learn new things, especially when it helps them to feel like a big kid! 

Here are some simple ways to help teach your toddler to tidy up after themselves, and to get them into good habits early:

Model Target Behaviors

 When teaching toddlers new habits, the best way to get started is by demonstrating those behaviours ourselves. Show your toddler what you want them to do by doing it first yourself. 

To make this most effective, talk your toddler through what you are doing so they are actively aware. “Look, mummy is putting her dirty socks in the laundry basket. This is where your dirty socks go too”. 

Start Small 

When encouraging a new habit, keep in mind the fact that your toddler is very new to helping out and may become overwhelmed easily. This means starting with a few very small habits to get them started. 

It may be as simple as asking your toddler to bring you their cup after they finish a drink. As this habit becomes more automatic, you may start asking them to put their cup on a bench if they can easily reach. Prompting is expected with younger children who need a lot more reminders to help. 

Make It Fun 

Toddlers are more likely to repeat a behaviour if it is fun. This is no different for older children. We are all more willing to do something we enjoy, so make tidying up fun. 

Do this by making a game out of it with your toddler. For example, say to them ‘Let’s see how fast we can pack up these blocks together.’ By working together, you are demonstrating the behaviours you want them to learn and having fun together. 

Persist 

It may feel like you are getting no-where in teaching your toddler to tidy after themselves. New habits take time, especially when toddlers are so emotionally driven and easily distracted. 

Don’t give up, even when you feel like it’s faster to do everything yourself. The habit will stick if you are consistent with your toddler. Keep them focused with plenty of positive feedback and praise. 

Initially, teaching toddlers to tidy up is mostly involving them in helping you, however, as they get older and more capable, their ability to tidy up on their own will improve. 

While it may not feel like a lot of help yet, as your toddler becomes more confident with these simple tasks, it will become routine and mean less picking up for you to do. Building these good habits early also means less resistance compared to starting when they are older.

Some fun items to try with your toddler when they are learning how to tidy up

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