EXPERT Q&A

How do I get my kids to pick up after themselves?

Constantly picking up after your kids—or constantly asking them to do it themselves—is exhausting. Learn how you can stop this cycle and help your kids build better habits.

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Question

I feel like I’m constantly nagging my children to hang up their coats, put away their shoes, and pick up their toys when they are done playing with them. What can I do to make this a habit so I can save my breathe already?!

Answer

Not only is repeating the same request again and again exhausting, but having a messy space can lead to unwanted stress and anxiety. Here are some tips on how to get kids in the habit of cleaning up after themselves without constant reminders.

  1. Provide clear expectations. Make sure children know what you expect from them when it comes to cleaning. For example, in our home, shoes are taken off at the door and placed on the shoe rack.  Bedroom floors are to stay clear of items such as clothing, towels, and toys. Also, if a toy or game is being played, it’s to be put away before the next item is taken out. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and it might not even work for every family. You will need to find what works best for your kids, but being clear about expectations is a good place to start.
  2. Give items their own home. Make sure items—such as coats, backpacks, shoes, and toys—have specific areas to be put away when not in use. Some examples include putting shoes on a rack or in a bin, hanging coats in a closet or on a coat rack, putting backpacks on a bench in the entryway, and keeping toys in bins or on shelves. Labeling bins or using pictures for younger kids can also be helpful.
  3. Make it a game. When it’s time to clean up—which should be at least attempted by the end of each day so it’s not completely overwhelming—try making it fun. You can play games like Beat the Timer, 52-Pick Up, or Dice Roll. Set a timer and have the kids pick up as many items as possible before it goes off, or see which child can be the first to pick up 52 items. They probably won’t make it to 52, but they will have fun. For the dice roll game, have the child roll a pair of dice, and whatever number comes up, that’s the number of items they clean up. Then have them continue until all of the items are put away.
  4. Set a good example. Children are always watching, and it’s important to set an example. If we expect kids to clean up after themselves, we need to be sure we are doing the same. If the expectation is that kids hang their coats in the closet, make sure you do as well. If you want kids to pick up their toys after using them, be sure to put away the items you have out before you get out something else.

Meet The Expert


Shenley Seabrook

Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.