Google+ Authentic Parenting: Toys, Play and a Harmonious Home, Part 3 - Clean Up Time

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Toys, Play and a Harmonious Home, Part 3 - Clean Up Time

written by Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama

This post is the last part of a three peace series about creating a harmonious home through the use of toys. Read about picking toys and creating play spaces around your home in the previous posts.

Children hate having their play interrupted and who can blame them? No matter how young a child is, if he or she is contentedly playing with a beloved toy, the idea of parting with it to do something mom or dad has in mind is not going to go over well. Tears, protests, and tantrums are a likely outcome. Clean up time will also elicit a similar response. So how can one peacefully parent in this situation?

I do not think that there is a catch-all method to move your child out of their realm of play but I have incorporated a few methods that seem to help ease the pain of the transition to a new activity (i.e. meal time, bath time, errand running time, etc…). First, I have made up several little jingles that I sing predicating the next activity. They are silly little songs that signal a transition. For example, when I have to disrupt my toddler’s play so that I can take her to get the mail, I sing “mail man, mail man, delivering mail like nobody else can! I wonder what, he brought today, let’s go outside and see hooray!” Totally lame rhyme right? Not to my daughter! For her, it is a consistent signal that we are going to go check the mail and after repeatedly using this method my daughter now jumps right up, grabs the mailbox key, and stands at the door. This has also worked with other rhymes for other activities I need to transition her to. Keep in mind that it took a couple of weeks before she made the connection between the rhyme and what we were about to do.

Clean up
A second technique that I have used seems ridiculous in a sense. When I need to disengage my daughter from her play quickly and do not have a transition song, I use “WE and US” instead of “YOU and I/ME”. I also use colorful, descriptive language about what I need my daughter to do instead of giving her a direct order or telling her what we are doing. This word swap has helped ease the pain of ending play immensely. For example, I won’t tell my daughter that I need to go do something and that she needs to come with me now. Instead, I tell her that “WE have to scurry like mice down the hall and out the back door to stop the neighbor’s dog from digging up our garden.” My daughter loves the idea of being a little mouse and she responds much better to the “we” versus “you need to come with me.” The same concept works if I need to quickly assist my elderly neighbor. I tell my daughter that “we need to be bunnies and hop as fast as we can next door to help the friendly grandma rabbit.” Seriously mamas – this word play works! I very rarely get met with resistance.

Clean-up Time
Clean up time can be a battle of the wills. Mama is trying to put the toys away and child is pitching a fit and/or taking toys right back out again. I make clean up time a game and something that WE both can do. However, I do not force my toddler to “help” me clean up. Instead I model how I would like her to clean up and if she joins in great. If not, fine too. First, I sing a little clean up song. (Sick of my songs yet?) My favorite is “Here come the cleaning gnomes, cleaning up their messy home. Putting all their toys away, so they can play another day.” I also have a large laundry basket that I use twice a day to collect all of the rogue toys. There is something about this large basket that my daughter very much likes. When she hears the song and sees the basket, my daughter is typically willing to help me collect everything. We then take the big basket and start putting everything away in its place. I do this before nap and before bedtime so it is a consistent routine. Although I am a total type-A neat freak, I will literally sit on my hands when I feel the need to pick up toys before the designated time. I need my daughter to feel confident in her freedom to do her job as a child which is to play and move toys about! She does not need me to scurry around behind her and continually pick everything up which in effect will disrupt her play. Since I also limit the number of toys available for her to play with, there isn’t an overwhelming mess to be dealt with. This helps me avoid feeling anxious over some massive mess left at the day’s end. I can literally have every single toy put away in 5 minutes. This is also manageable for my daughter to help with. Too many toys and other things to put away will be overwhelming for a young child and will it difficult for them engage themselves in the clean up process.

There are certainly days where my clean up time approach is not working. So guess what – I stop, grab my daughter in a bear hug, give her a little snuggle or tickle to lighten the mood, then physically move her off to bathtime, bedtime, or whatever comes after clean up time. I leave the mess for after she goes to bed. In my opinion, there is no reason to A) force a child to help clean up; B) clean up in front of a child who is having a nervous breakdown over it; C) discipline a child for not helping clean up; D) making a battle over something that eventually the child will earn to do by watching and imitating your methods. Consistent clean up times, consistent clean up routines and methods, and a calm, peaceful approach to any meltdowns will establish a good rhythm around clean up time that your child will embrace more often than not. It takes time and patience but it has worked for my daughter and I.

Remember mamas – you set the tone in your household. Center yourself, do not assume everything will be a battle, and model the behavior you want your child to learn. Eventually, you will find yourself working side by side with your child during clean up time! And you will both be smiling and enjoying the process!

Yours in Peace, Love, and Mothering,


About Hybrid Rasta Mama
Jennifer is a former government recruiter turned stay-at-home mama to a precious daughter brought earthside in early 2009. She believes in the importance of having a strong network of support. She's been active both in my local La Leche League and Attachment Parenting chapters. She's a mentor and contributing blogger with the Natural Parents Network and a contributor on Job Description: Mommy.
Why Hybrid Rasta Mama?  I take a little of this and a little of that and blend it all together into something that works for me, my daughter, and my husband. I am a voracious reader and researcher and have read an extensive amount of literature about parenting. I consider myself very well informed about the pros and cons of all the different philosophies and approaches out there. Read more on my blog Hybrid Rasta Mama. You can also find me on Facebook. .



  1. Jennifer,
    nicely written! ALways nice to read about someone that is parenting in a way so similar to me and what we do at our home! I jingle and sing to my three kids all day - and clean up time is often just an extension of play time as we do games to put stuff away... thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  2. Great ideas here! Love the little rhymes, songs, and playful way you do it. Also love the idea of consistency!

  3. Nice ideas. I'll be tweaking some of our current clean-up routines that are stalled a bit


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