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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Making “Clean-up” Fun for Kids

Their rooms are a mess.  Toys are all over the living room.  You’ve just worked a full-time day to come home to THIS?  How can you incent your kids to clean up after themselves?

1. Lead by example. If you expect your kids to keep their spaces clean, you must keep your spaces clean.

2. Have a one-toy-out-at-a-time rule. If Sarah has been playing with her teddy bear, and she decides that she wants to switch to her dolly, have her put the bear away before getting her dolly.

3. Communicate your expectations to your kids. Make sure your kids know that you expect them to clean up after themselves, specifically what clean-up duties are expected of them, and how to perform those duties. Duties may include putting away toys, cleaning up liquid spills, vacuuming up granular spills, or wiping surfaces that bear sticky finger prints. (Younger kids should have fewer and simpler duties; older kids may assume responsibility for a greater quantity and complexity of duties.) Emphasize the benefits of keeping things clean. You may even use humor to emphasize your point.

4. Make games out of cleaning. Games include scavenger hunts, timed cleaning contests (i.e., who can clean their room the best in five minutes), math games (i.e, would you put away two plus two toys?), and color and size games (i.e., would you put away all your red toys? would you put away all your toys that are bigger than your bunny?)

5. Set the cleaning to music. Use moderately lively music as a theme song for cleaning activities. When that song plays, the kids will know it’s time to clean. The pace of the music should be fast enough to encourage active cleaning without being so fast as to have the kids being carelessly fast in cleaning.

6. Involve the kids in cleaning-related craft activities. For example, you can buy some storage bins and have your kids decorate them to indicate what items are stored in which bins. Susie may put her name on her bins and then label the bin with hand-drawn pictures of the contents of the bin (i.e., this bin is for stuffed animals . . . or this bin is for electronic toys).

7. Help your kids clean, at least initially. Working alongside your kids, laughing and making the experience fun, can be very motivating.  Your babysitter can also initiate this fun experience. 

8. Praise your kids for meeting (or coming near) your expectations. Reward good behavior (i.e., cleaning) with rewards such as treats and fun activities. For example, a dish of ice cream or a trip to the park may be a reward for a room successfully cleaned in the time allowed.

By following these steps, you increase the likelihood that your kids will embrace the concept of cleaning up after themselves.

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