The OCDiva: Teach Your Toddler to Tidy Up

Welcome, fellow OCDivas! Welcome also to all you aspiring OCDivas out there. If you're new to this blog series, you can catch yourself up here–or you can just dive straight in with these awesome organization tips from my cleaning lady turned kindred spirit and OCDiva blog contributor, Crystal. It's time to…

Successfully teach your little ones how to clean up!

Do you ever feel like your sweet, cherub faced child is TRYING to make you crazy by ransacking one room after another?  Wonder why they have to get EVERYTHING out in order to pick the one toy they actually want then leave the rest strewn about like bomb shrapnel?  Well, I wonder too.  And since I haven’t found the answer, I have instead found ways to put my OCD to use in a GOOD way.  After all, what good is having the ability to be organized if I don’t choose to use it in a positive way and help my children learn in the process?

Kids will be kids, which means I can’t stop my 2-year-old from acting exactly how a 2-year-old does, and should, act.  What I CAN do is turn as many things as possible into a game or a rule that a 2-year-old understands, so that my house does not constantly look like we suffered an indoor tsunami.  Does it take some time and patience?  Of course!  However, it’s still better than driving myself crazy over something I can’t control and something that, quite frankly, isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.  Certainly not important enough to get upset with my little one while she’s still learning, and not important enough to suffer inside my own head because I like things to be far more orderly than your average person.  Having a neat and tidy house is great, and it definitely puts my mind at ease.  But let’s be honest, life was meant to be lived, and our little ones were meant to have joy and be enjoyed by us…not just disciplined and taught lessons every second of every day.

So how do I start to tackle all this so I can finally get my house in order?  Well, let me share a few tips with you.

Add an incentive

Sometimes I will add an incentive that I know my little one will want.  Is it bribery?  I prefer to think that it isn’t.  I don’t do it for every situation, and it’s usually something I already have to give.  I don’t offer a new toy or anything along those lines.  I will simply tell her that if she cleans up this mess, I will let her have a package of her organic fruit snack bunnies or maybe a half hour to play outside if it’s a nice day.  If it’s something we were playing with together, I tell her that we both made the mess and that she can have her incentive when she finishes helping me clean up.  It’s not perfect, but it seems to work pretty well!  It is quickly becoming a habit rather than a chore.

Make a simple rule

Make an easy rule and stick to it.  If your child has emptied an entire giant tub of blocks to build tower upon tower, as mine is so fond of doing, I make sure she knows that they must all be put back BEFORE she can get anything else out.  Does it elicit some tantrum-like behavior or an upset child?  Only at first.  Then it becomes routine, and a simple rule that gets followed much more often than not.  Put away whatever it is you are playing with before you get out something new to play with.  It also cancels out having a GIANT mess at the end of the day that is over-whelming for a small child, or even us adults, to try to tackle all at once.

Have an appropriate punishment

Having an age appropriate punishment or disciplinary action is important.  Getting overly angry or getting carried away with grounding, taking things away, etc. is going to backfire.  At this point in my life, my little one gets a 2-minute time out.  One minute for each year that she is in age.  If she screams or slams doors, I add a minute.  Sure, there are times when she is just far too upset to listen to reason.  She’s two!  However, starting something like this early on is already working.  Many times she knows that she’s broken the rules and will simply walk quietly to her room and wait out her two minutes when asked to do so.  This is far better than kicking and screaming every single time she doesn’t want to do something.  It’s also far better than her telling me no and running around getting even MORE toys out just to spite me.

Make a game out of it

Sometimes, the easiest way to keep the hurricane at bay is to turn clean-up into a game.  Let’s “shoot” the blocks into their bin like basketball, let’s see who can get the most items put away first, let’s see who can fill their bin the fastest, put away items by color, count as high as you can as you put each item away, or put Barbie/baby/teddy down for a nap so we can play a big-kid game.  The point is, make it into something that’s fun, a learning game, or something that makes them feel like a big kid.

Just do it

When all else fails, or the babysitter was there all day and it was clearly a baby party of sorts, just swipe it up yourself that night.  You can’t win all the time, and we all have bad days, even little ones.  Nobody is in a good mood all the time or follows every rule to the letter all of the time.  So why do we expect our little ones to NEVER misbehave or be in a bad mood?  Sometimes, it’s better to just put them to bed with however much has already been done and finish up on your own.  It will get done the way you want, and tomorrow is another day to reinforce the rules and teach them some more.

Am I suggesting just letting them get away with bad behavior?  Of course not!  But as I just said, there are some days that are not going to go according to plan, and it’s important to have a backup plan for those days rather than get angry with the little sweet pea over something that’s already over and done.  It also keeps you from going crazy if you can plan and know that this is ALREADY your backup plan.

The bottom line is that it’s good to have some rules, ideas, and plans in place to keep things in order when you are raising little ones.  Everyone will most likely have a slight variation of the above that will work for them.  The important thing is to find what works for you and stick to it!  One battle at a time, and for me a clean, organized house is a BIG win. Getting there takes some creativity and structure, but starting early and sticking with whichever plans you choose should lead to success.

Crystal's Headshot


Crystal is a mother, wife, animal lover, and detailed cleaner. She loves gardening, wine, silly picture socks, and dressing in themed costumes for Halloween with the whole family. Connect with her on the Top of the Fridge Cleaning Facebook page!

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