Q: “I’m wondering what I should expect from my young children in regard to chores and helping out around the house. It’s like pulling teeth to get my 4 year old and 2.5 year old to clean up toys! I have to remind them dozens of times about what they should be doing. Often, I just do it myself because it’s easier. What kinds of chores do your children do at these ages? At what age should I be able to say, ‘Go clean your room’ and expect it to be done without my help?”
A: Getting little ones to clean up by themselves can be pretty difficult!
I would not expect a 2.5 and 4 year old to clean up an entire bedroom by themselves without any help or supervision. You’ll just frustrate everyone!
I do have a few suggestions, based on a lot of trial and error in our house:
1) Limit the number of toys. This is a must.
When we were struggling with trashed bedrooms every day, I came to the realization that the sheer volume of stuff they had was the major contributing factor.
So, I explained to the children that Christmas was coming (it was), and that grandma and grandpa were sure to be giving them plenty of presents (they always do). I then explained that we were going to think about children who were not going to get much for Christmas, and get together a box of toys from their rooms to give away to charity.
My older son balked at the idea, but my daughter was quite enthusiastic (the two year old was too young to care, and the baby wasn’t born yet).
Then, I planned to spend the better portion of an entire day in their rooms with them. We cleaned up everything, with a lot of mommy-direction, and gathered together a big box of stuff to give away.
We threw away a lot of junk, too.
2) Give clearer “homes” to what you keep. This doesn’t need to be expensive. We use covered plastic totes from Wal-Mart.
Label them so that you know what goes in which box.
A technique that I learned as a preschool teacher is to put a picture label on the boxes, so that non-readers know where things go. You could carry this out a step further (I haven’t done this yet) and put labels on the shelves that match the box labels.
So, for example, you have a box for the ABC blocks, with a picture of an ABC block on it. Then, there is a picture of an ABC block on the shelf, exactly where you expect the box to go.
When you do this, especially with your littlest one, you’ll need to show them where things go, and teach them how to put them there.
This takes a while. Be patient.
I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, we mommies often expect children to “just know” how things should be done, when we’ve never taken the time to train them well.
3. Limit the number of toys in use at any one time. This is critical.
When all the toys are out at once, it takes 10 times longer to put them all away!
Consider which toys cause the greatest mess, greatest amount of sibling conflict, are most likely to get someone’s eye poked out, etc, and remove them from the children’s rooms.
They will whine and scream and cry…but trust me, it will be worth it!
Put those boxes away in an “adults only” closet. This is now your “toy-brary”.
The toy-brary rules are:
a)nothing comes out unless the rooms are clean,
b)only one toy comes out at a time,
c)the toy must be immediately put away when finished (no leaving “projects” out for later),
d) the moment we start fighting, it goes away immediately.
My children have come to appreciate these “special” toys more than they did when they were just scattered all over the floors. They take better care of them and play with them in a more civil fashion. A few of them make great “keep busy” toys for my 3 year old and toddler when I’m doing school with the older two.
4)Over the days and weeks after we made these changes, whenever a toy that was in the bedroom was not cleaned up, fought over, or otherwise mistreated, it went in the closet, too. A couple of these eventually came back.
There was a time when my oldest son didn’t have much in his room besides books and stuffed animals. He has become much better at putting his toys away…
5) A final thought. I think it’s good to consider that organizing and tidying are actually pretty difficult chores for little brains. I have a hard time keeping my own things in all the right places!
Boost their confidence by giving them other, easier chores.
A four year old can probably learn to sort laundry into piles by whites/darks.
Put some soap and water on a damp rag and little hands can scrub the kitchen floor.
My 3 year old dusts with a feather duster.
These are just some examples. Do my children do these jobs perfectly? Um, no…but they’re learning that work is a part of life, and that’s what’s important!
Hang in there!
By His Grace,