Dear Home Ec 101,
My 4 year old son absolutely refuses to clean up his toys! I’ve tried making it a game, I’ve also tried taking his toys away when he doesn’t clean them up. He still refuses to clean. Any ideas for getting him to clean up after himself?
Messy In Muncie
Some kids are harder to get cleaning than others. My oldest son likes order and hates chaos, so it was very easy to get him to clean up. My youngest son is the exact opposite- he apparently loves chaos and hates order, so getting him to clean practically takes an act of God.
With my youngest son, I’ve found that one of his problems is feeling overwhelmed when I ask him to pick up his toys. Even though it seems totally obvious to me what he should do, he doesn’t “get” what he needs to be doing, so I tell him to pick things up One. Thing. At. A. Time. It’s frustrating to me, because it is so slow, but it does get the job done and it makes it a lot harder for him to refuse, as I’m asking him to do one very simple task at a time. “Pick up your Spiderman doll. Now put him in the toybox.” “Pick up that piece of paper. Throw it in the trash can. No, the living room trash can. There’s no need to go all the way to the kitchen.” Like I said, it seems like an exercise in frustration, but it’s less frustration than telling him to pick up all his toys, and he totally ignores me.
Sometimes he gets cranky and flatly refuses to even do one thing at a time. In that case, I go to the thing he hates the most- being sent to bed. If it’s pre-dinner, it’s a nap. If it’s post-dinner, it’s bedtime. Even if that means I’m sending him to bed when it’s still light out. Now, you have to determine what your kid will dislike the most. For my son, it’s heading to bed- for your son, it might be something different, so experiment. But make sure it’s a punishment the kid considers to be pretty serious, otherwise you’ll be facing flat refusals all the time.
I’m not huge on punishments, but when it’s time to punish, like for clear refusals to obey, I do so. Don’t forget the positive side of things- when he’s doing a good job, praise him. I always tell Nate things like, “What a big boy you are, I’m so impressed!” I’m not big on bribing kids to do work- in our household we all pitch in and you shouldn’t have to expect a reward for that. The reward is not having to live in filth, as I tell the kids when they whine about their friends whose parents give them ponies and unicorns for not throwing trash on the floor.
Anyway, that is what works for me, I hope it works out for you too.