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How can I get my kids to clean up their toys?
Q: I have two daughters, ages 4½ and 2½. Recently, I’ve become very frustrated getting them to clean up their toys. Every day is a struggle. I started taking away anything that is not cleaned up, yet this doesn’t seem to matter. They just don't seem to care about their things. How do I begin to foster in them the realization that you need to take care of your possessions?
A: Yours is a problem that plagues parents all over the world. Children tend to be messy and to resist any efforts at change along those lines. It sounds as though you are handling it wisely—taking away toys they do not put away. Perhaps you haven’t kept them put away long enough? Just doing something once or twice does not always result in a change in behaviour with young children. Also, you might tell them they cannot have friends in to play unless they put their toys away. The 4½-year-old may be a help: talk to her about how you need her help in teaching her little sister how to care for toys. Finally, I would suggest that you put away most of their toys and get out a few every week. They could help you decide which ones they want to play with each week.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education