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My son enjoys making a mess when playing. From playing with mud to painting with his hands, to kneading dough, and getting himself wet; the messier the better. When he was younger I used to freak out and undo the mess almost immediately but now I just let him be and encourage messy play.
When he has his toys at hand to touch and play with, the fun intensifies and it gives him a sense of security. But toys on the room floors can be stepped on or tripped over, get damaged, and pieces can be lost, which are all good reasons for your toddler to learn to put away his playthings.
We tidy up together but he’d rather be doing something else, to be honest. Whenever I remind him, he makes a fuss out of it and it can get frustrating. I make sure I acknowledge his work and tell him what a great job he’s doing, but it’s still a struggle.
How can I help make it a not-so-hated habit while still teaching the valuable skill of cleaning up? I’d be happy to see him do it without even being asked.
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This is a constant struggle! We have found a few helpful strategies.
We also used a song to help clean up. For a while, we played "flight of the bumblebees" which was really fun. They also heard a few clean-up songs at school that they like.
Having a place for everything is also very helpful. Specific buckets, or even areas, gives them a bit of structure, so it's not just "clean everything up!".
I've also recently tried a method that's pretending they are doing a magic trick. "I'm going to close my eyes and when they are closed, I want you to make all the toys disappear!". It's helpful sometimes! Also works with finishing dinner. :)
When my son was 3, I implemented something I called, "Rock n Roll Cleanup." I had a playlist of energetic music and when I called for the "Rock N Roll Cleanup," I'd hit play and my son and I would run around like maniacs, dancing and cleaning until it was all done. The only rule was we had to keep moving until the room was clean. Sometimes the mess would grow as we ran around but ultimately the mess would be cleaned and we'd be exhausted from dancing and laughing. As he grew older, I sometimes would leave it up to him to do it alone, often challenging him to finish within the time of the least amount of songs. It's not a fool proof plan, but it worked 85% of the time and was genuinely fun for both of us.
I think that this is a universal problem that is not limited to kids - most of us are happy to have fun making the mess, but I know very few people who actually enjoy cleaning up. When my kids were toddlers, they were often very "helpful" when it came to household chores, but they were not very enthusiastic when it came to tidying up their own mess. I had a friend at the time whose house was always tidy, and she gave me the following advice:
Make sure that all the toys have a specific place, and make sure that these places are within your child's reach.
Give a warning when playtime is coming to an end, and remind your child that tidying up time is coming.
Tidy up with your child and give clear instructions so that they know exactly what to do.
Make tidy up time fun - choose some upbeat "tidy-up" music, and let the process be a happy one.
If none of these are effective for you, you can think about implementing a "toy in, toy out" rule where for each toy taken out, one needs to be packed away. Alternatively, you can rotate toys, packing some away for a few weeks at a time, which will hopefully lead to less mess.