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Oh my! What a Mess!: Kids’ Cleanup Tips

Apr 29, 2020


It’s a scene from a horror movie. Sixty toys are on the floor, paint is rubbed endlessly across the walls, and an unfamiliar smell fills your nostrils. Is that a skunk or Dad’s old cologne? Just when you are about to lose your temper, you see your kids goofing around, acting as though they’re having the time of their lives. You realize that the kids’ messes can be fixed as long as everyone contributes to cleanup.

To be Messy? To be Clean?

Let’s be honest. Kids have a blast making messes. While messes may not be ideal for the home, messes are healthy for your kiddo. The process of making a mess is a way for your kiddo to show they’re learning and growing in their environment. Practicing fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and in many cases, expanding upon their sensory experiences are among the many benefits of mess-making.

Since messes can really be beneficial for your child’s development, it’s important to be flexible in times of messes big and small. However, balance is key. Constant clutter could actually cause stress for those in the home. It can create feelings of excess and just be plain overwhelming. Plus, stepping on a pile of Legos could turn a good day bad quickly. If a mess is made, make it a point to clean up immediately afterward. Don’t wait. The longer a space is dirty, the harder it will be to clean later on. Messes tend to accumulate even more mess. If clean-up is something that your kiddos struggle with, check out our handy tips below.

kids' messes

Initiating Cleanup

  1. Keep Expectations Age-Appropriate

Depending on your child’s age, there may be some cleanup chores that are a little beyond their current grasp. They’ll definitely rely on your help. If a cleanup task is brand new, make sure to show them how and lend a hand if they still need you.

  1. Less is More

When it comes to toys, less is definitely more. Quality of play can decrease when there are too many toys to choose from. Keep absolute favorites and toys that allow your kiddo to create like blocks or Play-Doh. The rest? Time to send those away.

  1. Make Sure Everything Has A Place

If the toys on the floor don’t have a place to call home, then no one will know where to put it. Use closets, drawers, and other storage bins effectively. If you don’t have space, it may be time to consider donating items or buying the storage you need. As for your kiddos, let them know where everything goes in the home. No one is a mind reader!

Kids' Messes

  1. Teach How to Clean

Sometimes we assume that our kids are expert cleaners. What could be easier than mopping the floor? If your kiddo is unfamiliar with the process, model the work you expect from them. You are a teacher for them when it comes to so many aspects of life. Keep chores on the Mommy and Daddy curriculum too.

  1. Communicate Details

What one person finds messy, another may think it’s clean. When you’re asking your kiddo to clean, be very specific. “Clean up the mess on the floor” may mean “clean up the blocks, not including the socks and don’t vacuum” in your kiddo’s eyes. Your kiddo will be set up for success if they know exactly what to do.

  1. Consistency is Key

If your kiddo is only expected to clean up their mess sometimes, this could result in a mess sticking around for a long time or defiance when asked to clean up. Kiddos who are expected to clean up a mess every time they make one will ultimately be more likely to clean up without being told. At least, in the long run. Of course, this can take some time, so be patient. Keep the consistency pattern rolling.


  1. Make it a Game

One reason that kids struggle with cleanup is that they perceive it as less interesting or not as fun as other activities. We can’t blame them. Cleanup isn’t fun for a lot of folks. If you can, create a game out of it. For example, use different colored bins for sorting toys. Now, it’s a matching game. Maybe you’ll hide a small toy underneath a messy pile. They’ll have to clean the pile in order to reach the toy. Keep trying different activities to raise the fascination bar.

  1. Use Music

Turn on your kiddo’s favorite jam if it will help them to clean up. If their favorite jam is too distracting, pick out a playlist or song specific to cleanup time. Let’s get to singing and cleaning!

  1. Prevent Messes

Some messes can be prevented in the first place. Maybe your kiddo has a tendency to bring messy foods and snacks into their room. Make a rule that eating food can only happen in the dining room. Rules rule in this case! 

  1. Understand Transitions and Rewards

For some kids, transitions can be extraordinarily tough. It’s like suddenly ripping off a band-aid that’s sitting over your arm hair. The task is sudden, unwanted, and takes away from all the fun. One of the best defenses is to let your kiddo know how long they have before the transition occurs. Give them a countdown so they can better prepare for the switch. If a timer isn’t enough, you may offer a reward such as spending a little more time with a future activity next time.


At the end of the day, cleanup is a process. If there is still a mess in the home by the time you go to bed, avoid crying over spilled milk, so to speak. As long as you take steps to get to a cleaner home, your household will be happier for it.

From physical therapy to occupational therapy, we’ve seen our fair share of messes. If your kiddo is having any trouble at all making movements while cleaning, we may just be your next call.

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