Trying to clean up after young children is an endless task. They pull toys out of closets, drawers, and shelves, and when they’re done playing with one thing, they drop it on the floor and get out something new. They also leave their clothes and shoes lying around. In just a short time, a young child can create a mess.
Some of this can be explained. Young children’s interests shift quickly from one object to another, so even a brief play period may result in a big pile of toys. And because they like to play wherever their parents are, they carry (and leave) toys all over the house.
Most parents and young children argue over cleanup because parents care about keeping things neat and kids don’t. Young children don’t mind waking up, going to sleep, playing, and having friends over amid a jumble of toys. They aren’t embarrassed for others to see a messy house and they don’t understand when their parents get upset about their house not being in order.
You won’t have success trying to get your child to think as you do about this issue, although you may be able to persuade or force your child to cleanup, using a variety of strategies, including punishments, consequences, or bribing: “If you put your toys away, you can have a playdate.” Many children are reminded or punished over and over and still don’t clean up after themselves. Their interests and energy are simply directed elsewhere.
The job of cleaning up usually is left for parents, and the daily process of putting things away can be both demanding and unrewarding. You may want or expect help from your child, but until children reach early elementary age, you’ll get little relief. That’s because your child doesn’t think about cleaning up in the same way you do. Children are truly unaware of the tasks they leave for their parents.