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How to teach toddler to pick up after himself on his own?

My 16 month old will only put away his toys or pick up his mess/trash if I sit him there and make him watch me clean up. He’ll mimic, but only sometimes. I see kids who clean up after themselves without being made to do it. How do you instill that into a toddler?

  • Tiana
    Jan 12

    I don’t give him a choice. I tell him before, during and after play, that we clean up when we’re done. I only allow certain toys/ genre of toys out to begin with. Eg: just duplo blocks. Then we moved onto 2 types of toys. Duplo and trains, finally we let him take out all his toys, but with definitive places to put them away. We’ve got 4 storage ottomans each with a “type” of toy. Part of play is sorting everything back into the correct ottoman. After being physically guided for 2-3 weeks, then verbally reminded, my son picks up after himself when the cleanup song goes on.

  • MamaNukesYopolo
    Jan 12

    I’ve never seen a kid that young do it by themselves. What I do is clean up at transition times (ie before snack/lunch/dinner/time to leave/bedtime) for that age the most effective thing I’ve seen is helping them clean up while singing a catchy clean up tune. Anything over a few items will be incredibly overwhelming for a toddler to sort through without guidance. Another good tool is being specific with them. Ask them to put the red car on the green shelf. Then give them the next specific item and location.

  • Amanda
    Jan 12

    When I’m cleaning up with kids, I admit that I sing the clean up song from Barney, “Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share...” I know that Daniel Tiger also has a catchy clean up song. Having something fun and specific to cleaning up, like a song, is definitely helpful!

  • Jackie
    Jan 12

    My step son hated cleaning and really didn’t clean up after himself until 5/6yo!! My husband just gave up and would clean up for him 🤦🏻‍♀️ So with my LO (almost 19mo) we have always practiced cleaning up since she started walking (12mo). She actually really enjoys cleaning up!! We will be in gym class and everyone is playing with the bells and my LO is cleaning up all the extra ones on the ground 😂 Just keep practicing and letting him mimic and eventually he will get it. Also, I wouldn’t worry so much as to what you goes in what bin, just be happy that they do clean up, As of lately singing the clean up song only makes my LO clap but I keep trying 🤷🏻‍♀️

  • Anonymous
    Jan 12

    Every kid is different. My son liked sorting his toys and could clean up with support, then by himself at 18 months.

  • Anonymous
    Jan 12

    My daughter is 17m and understands putting toys away but it’ll be like 5 blocks out of 50 that she does and I do the rest while she dumps out another bin of toys. She actually really loves throwing stuff away in the garbage - she’s the most helpful there. But otherwise I don’t expect much from her now cleaning up after herself. She’s got too many things to do.

  • Ying
    Jan 13

    - Clean yourself up after dinner I have found it to be helpful to shape their mindset to clean up after themselves after every meal. For example: after dinner, I would ask them to clean their plate. If there is still food on the plate, I ask them to empty the food into the compost bin, then put the plate and the cup in the sink. During the process, I do not hold anything for them. By doing this day after day, it was lot easier to train them to clean up after themselves with other things, like toys etc.. I hope this is helpful:)

  • Ali
    Jan 14

    My older son never wanted to clean up after himself as a toddler. He is 5.5 now and much better with it. I admit that I never forced him much because he resisted but over time and at daycare this was reinforced.

  • Anonymous
    Jan 14

    I've never seen a child that young do it by themselves. Even the more "advanced" children that I've seen hitting typical 3 years old milestones at 18mo don't clean by themselves. My daughter began cleaning up more independently when she turned two.

  • Jess
    Jan 16

    My son is 2 and he’s pretty good about cleaning up. When he got big enough to take things out, I figured he was big enough to put them back. I would give him a few minutes warning and sing clean up songs to help him transition. If he’s in a mood and doesn’t want to, I will sometimes physically hold his hands around the toys to make him do it. I always help him clean up too. Since the words in the song are “everybody do your share”. That way he knows we work together. Now that he’s a bit older, he always checks (a lot of time without reminders) under his chair for dropped food to put in the trash - he loves putting stuff in the trash. And he wants to help load/unload the dishwasher and clothes dryer. Yesterday, he insisted that he wash the dishes! That was new. So... just stick with it and be consistent. He will need constant reminders and guidance. But he’ll get there.

  • Caitlin
    Jan 16

    Consistency is key. Some nights my daughter will watch more than actually help, but as long as she wasn't doing anything else I was okay with that. At 20 months she's very helpful with cleaning up, but I figure it's a few years before I won't need to be actually cleaning up right behind her.

  • Jennifer
    Jan 16

    Consistency is definitely right. When my kids were 2, I remember stepping on their toy and actually broke by it cracking in half. I picked it up and showed my kids. I said, once your toys are broken it's going in the trash. So I grabbed the trash can, and threw the toy into the trash in front of them. I said, if you don't want your toys being broken and thrown away, then you need to starting cleaning them up so mommy doesn’t step on them. After that day, they've been cleaning up their toys. When they don't, I'll remind them that the toys will be going into the trash soon!

  • Anonymous
    Feb 07

    I tell my son “first clean up then _____”