The Importance of Clean-Up: 10 Ways to Boost Help

1006141613Our young son was building tanks and trucks from a gigantic plastic bin filled with Legos. It was a multi-day process that required experimental crashes down the stairs, and head-on collisions between vehicles to see which design was stronger. On day three I surveyed the mess, the wrecks, the scattered bricks of plastic. I was tired of the chaos, forget creativity I thought grimly, enough is enough.
“Put the Legos away, we are done with this mess,” I said.
He looked up.
“Mom! I worked very hard on this mess,” he said sternly. He returned to fitting wheels onto an axle, and I returned to the kitchen. Everything would get cleaned up later.damn legos

Most parents understand the importance of encouraging creativity in their children. It opens their imagination to possibilities everywhere and strengthens problem solving skills, but one of the most difficult parts of allowing children hands-on creativity is in the aftermath. There are messes and clutter. We are tired. The kids are cranky and it doesn’t feel worth the battle to get them to pick up after them, so we do it for them.

This pattern unwittingly sets the stage for a sense of entitlement: there will always be someone to clean up after me. Learning to tidy up after play is a powerful aspect of parenting that, future forward, impacts behavior when they get a job, fall in love, or consider the environment. Learning to clean up over the years develops accountability when a mistake is made at school or in a job. He will be more inclined to work through the thorny parts of relationships. She will be more likely to understand the connection of her garbage to the overflowing landfill, to the litter on the side of the road.

Guiding children in clean up can make the difference of one willing to work for change, or one content to let others decide for him. Teaching a three old to put away his Legos may seem a small thing, but in the end, if done consistently, it can take root and grow into a world of difference.


1. Be very clear about what you expect, and how you want it done. Say I want all the toys on the carpet in that box, as opposed to Put your toys away
2. Offer to help, work side by side, but stop if they are not helping
3. Set a timer 10 minutes before clean up time. Pre-warn your child when the 10 minutes are up, it is time to put things away
4. Keep art supplies, toys, and blocks organized in plastic bins. Store where your child can reach them
5. Have regular chores for your child: setting the table, helping with dishes, making her bed, etc. Make it a routine
6. Start them young! Two year olds love to help. This is your window of opportunity
7. After cleanup, place the items your child ‘forgot’ to put away in a separate box. He can earn them back with a little extra work
8. Clean up litter from your neighborhood on Earth Day. Make the world more beautiful by planting flowers
9. Sing a clean-up song while picking up. Make it up! Sing it to a familiar tune like Old MacDonald
10. Do not expect perfection, but don’t cave to a sloppy job either198wlhh228q7mjpg

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