Trying to get your kids to pick up their toys can be frustrating and even infuriating at times. Simple requests turn to bribes or threats, and maybe there’s even a tiny bit of yelling involved. (Been there.)
Other times you have a Zen moment and deliver a lesson to your child about the value of caring for one’s things, and you wax poetic about how fortunate they are to have so many toys.
(Which is met by blank stares, whining or someone asking for a snack.)
Other times you forgo the “life lesson” and just pick up the damn toys yourself because it’s easier. Afterwards you of resent the fact that you’re the only one picking up toys, and no one else seems to care.
The time it takes to pick up dozens of toys is one thing, but you also worry about your child’s ability to take responsibility for their stuff.
Maybe you’ve found yourself asking these questions…
- How do I get my child to take care of their things?
- Why won’t my kids pick up when I ask them?
- Why is picking up toys such a battle?
When my oldest daughter was a toddler it felt like a constant tug-o-war to get her to pick up. Now my 3 and 7 year old are able to pick up their toys without the tears (most days). And I have resigned as the family’s full-time toy tidier.
But it wasn’t until I simplified our home and started implementing techniques that I used as a classroom teacher that things really clicked in my home when it came to toys.
I teach my entire toy method in my online class, Streamline the Toys, but today I’ll share just a few tips on how I got my kids to pick up their toys without the tears, tantrums or drama.
Tip #1: Show, Don’t Just Tell
Many times children don’t pick up because they don’t have the skills. Just because your child is physically able to move a toy, does not mean they have the cognitive ability to do the mental planning, prioritizing and focusing it takes to fully tidy up a collection of toys. That’s where we come in as their coach.
At times we assume our kids can do what we say, “Pick up your trucks and put them away.” However most children are visual learners and learn from modeling, so just telling them what to do isn’t enough for them to really understand what we want them to do.
When we tidy side-by-side with young children day after day, they mimic our movements and our pace. We are teaching them the skill of tidying up. Even our school-age children need the visual reminder of modeling from time to time, but especially when there’s a new toy or new storage piece.
Tip #2: Use Questions to Prompt
Questioning is a powerful tool that educators use in the classroom to help drive thinking and modify behavior. Instead of a power-over approach, “You will do this now”, the use of questioning provides a power-with dynamic. It implies, “I’m here to help you with this task, so you can learn how to do it yourself”.
Instead of: “Put your blocks away.”
Try this: “Where do your blocks go? That’s right! Can you show me how you put them away now?”
Instead of: “Pick up those books on the floor.”
Try this: “What’s on the floor that isn’s supposed to be there? Right! Where should they go?”
Even using the simple question, “What next?” can be so powerful. You are prompting action but allowing your child to have choice in what that action is. Try using questions when you can the next time you help your child pick up.
TIP #3: The “Large to Little” Trick
Cleaning up an entire area takes executive functioning skills to be able to prioritize, plan and put items back in their place. That’s a lot for little brains! We can help them out by giving them a protocol.
Here’s one of my favorites…
Ask your child to spot the largest toy left out in the room. Once they do, ask them where they should go. Continue having your child locate the “biggest toy” left and guide them to place each back in its home.
Eventually all that is left will be the smallest toys, which are typically more time consuming to pick up. The “Large to Little” trick works so well because it builds on momentum. It’s easy to spot the big toys, and once your child gets rolling their resistance fades.
Tip #4: Use “I notice…” Statements
This has two parts…On one hand we want to positively reinforce desired behavior. Instead of just saying, “Good job!”, we can be more specific about what they did well. “I noticed you picked up all your stuffed animals. Wow!”
On the other hand, we want to reduce shaming statements. Shame is not conducive to the learning process. Remember we’re teaching a skill that our child does not have. Yet!
When we employ threats or yelling our kids may comply, but they’ll never truly learn the skills of tidying up unless they feel emotionally safe.
“I notice that you still have toys that need to be put away.” Using “I notice…” in this way makes it more neutral and allows us to guide our child without making it seem like correction. We are creating the cue they need to take the next step.
TIP #5: The 5 Minute Family Tidy
In our family we spent 5 minutes after dinner tidying up community rooms. For us this is our living room and dining room, but it could also include a playroom for your family. We pick up toys and any other item that needs to go back to its “home”.
This is a short but crucial part of our evening rhythm. Everyone does it, every time. Usually I cue my kids with a specific task, and then my husband and I tidy right along side them.
Here’s what I love about this simple daily practice…
I’m modeling and setting the pace.
(And it’s a fast one!)
It’s something we do do together.
(It reinforces a value we have: “Our family is a team, and we work together.”)
We give high fives after and celebrate.
(I’m framing picking up as a positive experience.)
Since we have been doing this since my toddler was born, she naturally started picking up toys at a younger age than my oldest did. Why? Likely because she has seen this modeled her entire life. Even at the age of one year, I would do hand-over hand to pick up blocks, so she could be a part of our family tidy.
If you can commit to spend even 5 minutes a night doing this for one week, I PROMISE you will reap the benefits!
TIP #6: Gamify Picking Up
When we put a positive spin on picking up, we reframe the entire activity for our kids. One student in my online class, Amy, says this to her kids, “We take care of our home because it takes care of us.” I think that’s a great motto.
Here are some ways to turn a dreaded chore into playful team work…
-Make it a race.
-Assign “points” for the each item they pick up with the winner getting to chose snack or the next activity.
-Pretend the toys are coming alive and give them funny voices.
-Turn your tidy into a dance party. Put on a fast paced song and dance while you clean.
Tip #7: Declutter the Toys (without conflict)
When there are too many toys at your child’s disposal, overstimulation occurs, and they’re not even able to play effectively, much less pick up.
I saved this tip for last because it really is the most important.
The harsh reality is this…Your kids will never be able to consistently pick up if there are too many toys in their environment. When they do, it will be a struggle. Every. Single. Time.
One of the best things you can do for your child’s home environment is to remove toy clutter. If you’ve tried decluttering toys in the past and it didn’t go so well, you’re in good company.
In my online class, Streamline the Toys, I walk busy moms through a powerful collaborative process to declutter the kid’s toys without conflict.
I’ll show you exactly how and when to get your child involved in the decluttering process that takes into account their emotions and developmental stage.
Less tears + less clutter = a happy home
You’ll finally be able downsize the toys as a team. I also walk you through the following…
- How do I declutter toys, so my kid doesn’t have a melt down?
- What about if I have a very sentimental child?
- How to I handle the constant influx of toys from birthdays, holidays and grandparents?
- What’s the best way to organize toys so that my kids will actually put things back?
If you’re ready to take the next step to taking an intentional approach to toys and tidying up, head over and check out the class.