Consistency is key. “If you encourage your toddler to clean up on some days, but ignore the mess or do it yourself on others, your child won’t have a clear expectation of what you want her to do,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution. “So set a plan and stick to it, keeping in mind that one day’s mess is usually manageable, but a mess that adds up day after day becomes insurmountable. Pick a scheduled time that you can stick to every day, such as after dinner or before putting on pajamas.”
Keep your expectations developmentally appropriate. A two-year-old can most certainly help pick up toys in the living room; she is not able to pick up all the toys scattered around the house all alone. In general, older toddlers are more adept at pickup duties than younger toddlers; some older toddlers may even enjoy helping you vacuum or dust after the toys are picked up.
Working together makes cleanup more tolerable for all involved. You can show your child what to do, and the chore won’t seem nearly so awful to your toddler if you’re there, too.
“Make sure there is a designated place for everything and teach your child to keep everything in its rightful place,” Pantley says. Emphasize how much easier it is to find and play with toys when they’re all in their proper positions.
Add fun whenever possible. Some parents play music during pickup time. Others set a timer and challenge their kids to beat the clock. Experiment — and remember that the habits you’re laying down now may well influence the cleanliness of your future teenager’s room.