I grew up picking up after my two older brothers. As a result, I decided that my kids will not grow up thinking that they can make a mess and expect someone else to clean it up for them. So, since being able to walk, each child has helped pick up their own toys (and they help clean up when leaving a friend’s house. Don’t take this for granted. Not all parents have their kids do this, in fact my kids are the only kids I know that do this). I help as little as possible.

Sometimes they don’t want to do it. Not cause they are kids, but because they are human. So, here’s what to do (cause I don’t want to discipline for not cleaning up their stuff): break out the vacuum or the broom. I always used the broom when we had hardwood floors. I would start sweeping the floor. All it took was me throwing away one crayon or other cheap, “meaningless” toy out with the dust. Just watch and see how quickly they pick up their toys to avoid them going in the trash. The key is that you can’t threaten to throw something in the trash, you have to actually do it, and don’t be a meanie and throw away their favorite toy. Choose one of those junk party favors that you wanted to trash the first minute you saw it and actually sweep it up and throw it away. You also have to tell them that you are sweeping and anything on the floor will be thrown away.

Here’s another method. You know how some parents count to three as a threat to their child to do what they need to be doing? “Bobby! Come here right now! 1-2-2 and a half…Get over here… Don’t make me count to three…” Ever heard that? Well, I’ve taken advantage of the fact that my children have seen this display (angry parent counting means business). That, and my kids are competitive–“bet you can’t do X this fast.” So whenever I want them to clean their room and they are being pokie, I think of a reasonable amount of time and say that I’m gong to count to whatever number. For cleaning a small mess I usually count to 30 really slowly. For my pokie little puppy daughter to get her jammies on I give her to ten. They know that at the end nothing bad is going to happen if they don’t finish by the time I count, but they sure move fast!

If the mess is really big: You know the kind where you can’t see the floor cause someone isn’t helping their kids remember to put their clothes in the hamper or to put their toys away when they are done (you could make a rule–we’re bad at this one–that you have to put toys away before getting out a new one–yeah right)?

So when the mess is really big, the kids are overwhelmed and discouraged. Have them start with similar items. For example: Pick up all the clothes. Are they clean or dirty? Put the clean clothes away and place the dirty ones in the hamper. Once that is done move on to all the cars, then all the dolls…This also reinforces sorting and helps them to learn to break big projects into small, manageable chunks. Once the things can’t be categorized, I help pick things up and let them rest. They have even done this on their own. It’s just that when they are tired they need guidance.

On a related note allowing kids to help with chores will do wonders for them. I met a girl once who grew up with a maid and would pay people in college to do her laundry and make her bed because she didn’t know how. She eventually learned to make her bed, but the laundry remained someone else’s chore…

My kids put away their own laundry, help hang and fold their clothes, wash dishes, sweep, vacuum, clean up their own spills, wash veggies, set the table, etc. Many of these things they were able to do by age three. I would also let my kids at age two help with dishes by giving them clean dishes to wash. Kids are very capable. They are always watching a learning. Take a little time out to let them help. they are slower and might do it “wrong,” but it is teaching them how to be responsible and take care of themselves. Another key is let them do what they can and not force them to help. Make it fun and when they ask if they can help figure out something developmentally appropriate and let them.