3 Tips for Getting Kids to Pick Up After Themselves

getting kids to pick up

I hated the sound of my own nagging voice when my children were young and they didn’t pick up after themselves. Threats, nagging, and angry outbursts didn’t work when my parents used it on me and those tactics didn’t work on my own kids. I had to learn better ways to accomplish order and cleaning motivation while maintaining the emotional connection with them. I realized I felt powerless and the only one with a problem in the house was me. They didn’t care that the house was a mess. Why would they? They’re kids. I had to put the problem back where it belonged, with my kids. Here are 3 ways I found success in getting my kids to take on the responsibility for cleaning up after themselves.

1. Feel free to go do ____ after your things are picked up.

This one works great for small children and teenagers alike. It requires that the incentive is highly motivating for them. What fills in the blank can be anything. “Feel free to watch TV when you’ve picked up the toys you were playing with.” “Feel free to take the car tonight when you’ve put your laundry away.” Resist talking to your kids in a threatening or manipulative way. That will only cause the situation to escalate into a fighting match. Just calmly go about your business as they struggle with the dilemma at hand. And no matter what they do to cajole you into relenting, absolutely maintain your resolve. Over time they will learn that when you start to say, “Feel free……..” they will respond with, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll go pick up my things.”

2. Would you like me to clean that up for you or would you like to do it?

This was one of my favorites when my kids were young. I told my kids that my time is expensive. I require $20 an hour for cleaning up after people. Would they like to pay me for the time it takes to clean up after them or would they like to do that themselves? Of course, school-age kids don’t have disposable income so they couldn’t afford to hire me. Payment would come from my selling their stuff. I only had to do that once. It was really hard to sell something valuable. But they learned that if I posed the question of who they wanted to clean up, they quickly went and did it themselves. After asking the question the first couple of times I would follow it up with, “I’ll know in five minutes what you’ve chosen.” After the five minutes was up I would head to the mess and start cleaning it. They would then screech and come running shouting, “I’m going to do it! Stop cleaning, Mom!” That was music to my ears.

3. Limit how much can be out at a time.

Young kids are like a tornado and lose interest quickly with toys. Once they get too much out at a time it can be overwhelming to try to clean it up. Whenever I face a big job myself I can get overwhelmed and avoid it. Smaller jobs are less intimidating. Require that they clean up one thing before starting something new. And follow that rule yourself as well. Complete one thing at a time before you start something new. And clean up after yourself to set the example.

All of these tools will only work when you are calm and unthreatening. You want your kids to have the messiness be the problem and not an angry mom be the problem.

Tell us! How do you get your kids to pick up after themselves?