Home parenting When should children start cleaning up?

When should children start cleaning up?

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

Cleaning up is a difficult topic for many families. It’s usually more of a concern for us parents than it is for our children. Tidying up is important for the independence of our children from an early age. In this article, you will learn the background, the right time, and practical tips on how you can get your child to clean up.

When do children learn to tidy up?

Children have a sensitive phase when it comes to cleaning up. At around 18 months, children love to clean up, but also to put away. You discover and research.

We parents can use this phase to give our children positive experiences in connection with cleaning up. Many small children have the joy of cleaning out around their second birthday. Building blocks, pencils, and other toys are taken out, emptied, and put in a lot of different places as the mood takes them.

It seems that our children don’t really want to play with it, they simply want to make a mess. In fact, that’s true. They don’t do it with malicious intent to annoy us parents, but out of your curiosity. Researching causes and their effects is very exciting for our children.

At around two years of age, they are able to pursue this interest even further. They’re actually playing, not like we imagine them to be doing. They look at the items they can use, how they feel, how they sound, and what else they can do with them. 

Our children need to be taught that what they clear up must also be cleared away. Of course, our children should do it themselves.

What promotes tidying up in children?

There are conditions that make our children “like” tidying up or at least do it without being asked 20 times.

Set rules

Rules make it easier for our children to learn. Security and support are provided. The same goes for cleaning. When children understand what is expected of them, they are more likely to cooperate.

Set times

We should always tidy up at the same time. This will allow them to prepare themselves and anticipate what to expect. It is more difficult initially if you have a fixed clean-up time. As it becomes a habit, the effort usually pays off. In my experience, it is easier for children to understand and accept when tidying up is noted in a weekly plan.

Create a relaxed atmosphere

It’s important to try to be relaxed in this situation ourselves. Pressure and arguments before or during the clearing away usually make things worse. This makes our children associate tidying up with negative experiences and makes it even less pleasant.

Order system

Most children find it easier to clean up when there is a system of order. You don’t have to think twice about what goes where. This cuts down on the time it takes to clean up.

If our children have to think about where each object belongs, they will quickly lose interest. Here, a system of order simply means that everything should have its place. I’m not implying that everything must align. Tidying up is much easier with toy shops, boxes, or bags, especially for small children.

They still have a hard time setting things down so that they stay standing. In containers, such as drawers or boxes, you can put your toys in and then close them. You can also write on these boxes or give them pictures. This also makes it easier to get rid of things.

Stay consistent

To make tidying up a routine, it is important to do it regularly. When our children are not yet used to tidying up, it often requires several requests or even discussions. It is difficult for both sides. However, it pays to be consistent and demand the cleanup, regardless of the form you have agreed to.

Putting away will soon become a habit for your child. Habits are part of everyday life, so they don’t generate resistance in our children. This is vital for unpleasant activities. Of course, these are gladly postponed and avoided if possible.

To be a role model

It is important to set an example for our children when it comes to ordering. If we don’t put it away ourselves, it’s hard for us to ask our children to do it. You can calmly draw your child’s attention to something that you put away. “Just look. I cleared that out before, and now I’m clearing it away because I don’t need it anymore today.”

How important is order to children?

In general, the question of how important order is is hard to answer. But as a psychologist, I think that our children need a certain level of order to feel comfortable. Not always and not in every case, but on the whole yes. 
The benefits of teaching our children order are:

  • When our children know where to find things, it makes life easier for them.
  • It is important to organize yourself by putting away things.
  • Independence and autonomy can be achieved through self-organization.
  • Practice putting things away also promotes the development of frustration tolerance, which is the ability to endure frustration.
  • By clearing away independently, our children learn to take on responsibility.

How to motivate your child to clean up

How can you motivate your child to tidy up when they don’t want to?

  • Make sure that your child is aware of the agreed schedule.
  • Prepare the child for clean-up time.
  • Allow your child to complete their activity or agree on a time frame for when they should complete it.
  • Adding music makes it even more fun.
  • It’s done quickly and is more fun when done together.
  • Make it clear what and who should clean up, so that the chaos is not so confusing.
  • During the process, praise your child for cleaning up.
  • Make your child aware of the progress they have made in tidying up, this will have a motivating effect. (“Look, just add the bricks and balls and you’re done.”)
  • Sometimes small rewards, like a little extra story before going to bed, a sticker, or a reward board, help to feel motivated.
  • Get creative and make the clean-up into a competition or a game. Here I have selected tidying games for you on seattleymca.org.
  • You can use toys that can be loaded to put away other toys. Vehicles and things like that. This makes it more fun to clear away things.

Clean up according to the Montessori principle

I would like to briefly introduce the core elements of tidying up according to the Montessori principle. Therefore, it is important that everything is prepared in such a way that your child can complete the task on its own. It also applies to the point “order systems” mentioned above.

Help me to do it aloneMaria Montessori

The Montessori concept recommends a few points to make tidying up easier for your child.

  • Concrete storage places.
  • It is important not to overfill them in order to keep everything visible.
  • If possible, label them.
  • Divide the room into different areas, such as a sleeping area, a play area, a storage area, a moving area, and a cuddling area…
  • Keep items that are meant for children at a child’s height.
  • The majority of toys should be made of natural materials or wooden ones.
  • Only toys and books that have been approved by you.
  • There should be space for creativity.
  • Please make it as clear as possible.

Clean up the room during puberty

Puberty can be a challenging time for parents. Our children are starting to question our values as they break away from us. Conflicts are not uncommon. We should choose the topic we fight with our children.

Teenagers need freedom and independence. It’s important to give them this freedom. They are prepared for adulthood in a safe place. This also applies to cleaning up and especially their own room.

Our children’s room is their kingdom, even if it is our apartment or house. We should respect this private area, which is an important retreat for our children, especially when they are teenagers.

If it’s right for you, you should give your child as much freedom as possible with regard to their room tidiness. Of course, this does not necessarily apply to the entire household. Teenagers are expected to take on a lot of personal responsibility and also do household chores.

The tips above also apply to teenagers. Set rules with your child. Support your teenager with timely reminders and preparation by making tidying up a ritual.

My advice is not to let your teenage child’s room become a point of contention and to keep them out of domestic responsibilities. This saves nerves, reduces the chance of conflict, and of course, promotes independence and harmony.

You can still set individual rules, but you should talk to your child first. The dishes from the room should be put in the dishwasher, but everything else in the room is up to the teenager.


You can motivate your child to tidy up more quickly with the tips above. The earlier you involve your child in daily tasks, the quicker and more natural it will be for your child to carry out this task alone.

Children are not helped if we deprive them of everyday tasks, but they are taken away from their independence.

You may also like