How To Get Your Kids To Clean Up Without Griping About It

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty

Cleaning up is a battle of wills at my house. I’d love to say that I am dealing with a gaggle of toddlers who just make a mess and walk away without a care in the world. But that is not the case. I have children ranging from five all the way up to 13 and there really isn’t one who is better than the other when it comes to being tidy. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t filthy slobs. They are more of the leave the family room blankets on the floor, toss your socks off where you are sitting, and leave a dish or cup in the sink for mom to toss in the dishwasher kinds of kids. I haven’t done the best job of training them to be self-motived cleaners. But it is time for us all to straighten up in more ways than one.

In order to get your children to not only clean up after themselves mindfully, you also need them to do it willingly. That can be a struggle. Getting frustrated and doing it yourself, which I am totally guilty of, gives them a few false impressions. One, you will always be around to clean up after them. Two, they aren’t capable of cleaning up after themselves. And three, it’s OK just to be a slob. None of those are things that you really want your children to believe. Better by Today offers some pretty great ideas to help your kids to learn to clean up after themselves and to like it.

Just Because They Are Toddlers Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Help

This is an easy trap to fall in to. Your children are little, so you follow them around with a wet wipe for their face and a basket for their toys to keep things nice and neat. Sonja Meehan, a professional organizer told Better by Today to start teaching your kids early to instill the value of keeping things nice and neat.

“Take advantage of this and help them form good habits while they’re still such enthusiastic workers,” Meehan says. “Find ways that they can participate in doing chores — sorting socks, dusting low surfaces, pushing the buttons on the washing machine, picking up toys, etc.”

Don’t Confuse Chores and Cleaning Up With Punishment

So you’re pissed at your kids, what is an effective way to get them out of your face and to feel badly about what they did? Make them clean something. As much as we love to have a clean bathroom after a fight with a mouthy teen, making cleaning a punishment is just a bad idea. You are better off making them understand that cleaning is a chore and a responsibility. Use it more as an incentive. There are mixed ideas about allowances, but if a little cash is a motivator for your kids, it’s ok to use it.

Explain Why Having A Clean Home And A Clean Body Are Important

Johner Images/Getty

Getty Images/Johner RF

Corporate Communications Professional Britta Gidican told Better By Today that she was able to get her child interested in cleaning, basically by grossing him out.

“I explain to [my six-year-old son] how germs travel, bugs lay webs/nests in messes, etc.” Gidican says, noting that she started doing this when he was around three years old. “That has seemed to do the trick in illustrating the ‘why’ behind our need to clean so he now understands and even goes further to explain it to others. [If] he sees someone leave dirty clothes on the floor or not clean up their dishes he will lecture them about how it’s messy and needs to be tidy.”

Allow You Child To Choose What To Clean

You may find that you have a child who loves to vacuum or someone who likes to get down and dirty scrubbing dishes. Give them a chance to choose their own chores and you may just get more out of them in the end.

Don’t Pile On All Of The Chores At Once

We all want our house to be clean all the time, but that simply isn’t realistic. It also probably isn’t going to happen in one felt swoop. Set some goals and give them a few smaller tasks at a time and work together to get everything complete. If they are overwhelmed, they are more likely to complain or quit all together.

Make Clean Up Time Into A Game

Whether it’s a race against the clock, you, or their siblings, kids love a little competition. Being the winner and making cleaning into a game can introduce a little fun into what normally feels like a boring chore.

If You Are Going To Play, Factor In Time To Clean Up


Getty Images/Maskot

If your child is having a play date or playtime before bed, they need to realize that part of that time needs to be reserved for cleaning up. When a friend is coming for an hour, be sure to stop the games with about 10 minutes to spare so that everything will be neat and tidy for the next time you get it out.

Use “Grandma’s Rule”

Dr. Tamar Chansky, psychologist and author told Better Today that Grandma’s rule, or Premack Principle is a great way to get kids in the habit of cleaning up. For example, “Grandma says no cleaning up until after you finish your dinner.”

Using what Chansky calls, “clean sweeps” can help. “We are going to the movies at 3; Let’s figure out our clean sweeps to do before,” she says. If it isn’t done, then there will be no movie. Simple.

Introduce An Allowance

As adults, we know that money doesn’t grow on trees and that it doesn’t come for free. Our children need to understand this principle as well. When they are in a work environment in the future, they will be expected to perform their duties in order to receive a paycheck. You can turn your home into a business and offer your children a monetary reward for completing their chores. But be sure to set the expectation. If they don’t do their work, there will be no financial return.

Get Your Kids Involved With A Charity

It is so tempting to go through our kids’ things when they aren’t around and just start tossing. But it really is unfair to them and kind of mean. Kids need closure and if they are able to look and something and know that it could go to a child in need, they may be more likely to part with the beloved toys that they never even look at. Get them involved with a charity, there are tons of toy drives around the holidays that can get you all in the spirit of the season.

Clean and tidy children become clean and tidy adults. Getting them in the habit of cleaning up after themselves will save you all in the long run from arguments and resentment in the future. Plus, if you don’t have to spend a whole Saturday cleaning, you can spend better quality time as a family doing what you love together.

This article was originally published on