Getting Toddlers to Put Toys Away

toddler toy pickup
Flickr photo by OakleyOriginals
When my daughter was about 18 months, she loved to pick up her toys. Now that she's almost 2 1/2, not so much.

She goes into a panic if I so much as make a move to put them away. So most days it looks like a tornado ripped through my house.

I'm not a big fan of that look, so I consulted two parenting experts and asked them why my daughter doesn't like cleaning up her toys -- and how I could encourage her to do so.


Here's what they had to say:

Ann Corwin, Ph.D., M.Ed., The Parenting Doctor:

"This is ‘normal' for a child this age. Putting toys away should always be just something parents practice with their kids as a kindergarten readiness skill. Always make putting away toys playful. Toddlers' brains are driven to be active all the time so put on some music (play the same music and only use it during clean-up time) and dance the toys away with your child. Since your toddler can't tell time, when they have to put toys away it could be for two hours, two years, or forever as far as he is concerned. That's why they resist doing it."

Amy McCready
, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions:

"Keep on top of the toys throughout the day so the job isn't so overwhelming. Include 'clean-up breaks' into your daily routine so it becomes just part of what you do each day, not a dreadful chore. If your toddler (over the age of 2 1/2) resists, provide a When-Then option: 'When the toys are picked up, then we'll leave for the park.' (This implies that you're not going anywhere until the toys are put away -- but it's positioned in a way that gives the power to the child. She will decide when/or if she'll go to the park.) Keep in mind, the 'then' has to be something your child really wants to do -- otherwise there's no incentive to get moving."

Does your child put away his toys? What's your secret?

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