Let’s face it, toddlers are kind of gross. Give them cake and they smear it all over their face. Can you imagine if an adult did that? Imagine for a moment if you went to work with chocolate cake smeared all over your face and snot running down your upper lip and then proceeded to go to a meeting as if all were well and right with the world. The thing about toddlers is they have yet to learn the social skills and expectations of the real world. They need to be taught to make that connection – in a civilized society, clutter and messes need to be cleaned up.
The key is routine and habit. They say you must be consistent and patient to teach a puppy a new command and when you think about it, toddlers are a lot like puppies. They don’t have a lot of respect for their surroundings and that’s where involved parenting comes in.
When a toddler is finished eating, it is important to tell him/her what to do with their plate and cup in steps. First, we must associate the act with the common goal. Tell them, “You need to clean up when we’re finished eating,” or “You need to put your toys away after you’re finished playing with them.” Some moms have also claimed success by teaching their toddlers that they must put one toy away before they start playing with another, or having a “3 toys out at a time” rule. Whatever you decide to manageable and work within your lifestyle, again the key is to be consistent.
For cleaning up after meal times, tell them step by step what it is that you want them to do, “Bring your cup and plate to the kitchen sink please.” And just like a puppy, praise them when they’ve done a good job, “That’s great Joey/Josephine. I am proud of you!”
Some parents make fun games out of clean up time. You can make up a song. Our old standby was Barney’s, “Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do your share!” But you can make up your own lyrics, such as, “Don’t be a hillbilly, why ya got to be so silly?”
Some kids may learn this behavior quickly and have a natural inclination to be clean while others may resemble Pig-Pen, the stinky, smelly Peanuts character who was happier than a pig in slop, in which case you may have repeat steps… wash, rinse, repeat over and over. Some parents may also wish to give rewards beyond praise and pat on the head and dole out a nickel, dime or quarter for a job well done, but just remember, these behaviors are such that should be expected and not necessarily rewarded as something above and beyond. We all must do our part to maintain a healthy and happy home. Perhaps the most effective for behavior modification is a reward chart. You can make one yourself. No need to buy a fancy one from the store, you can find interactive, printable behavior charts for free online.
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