Picking up the toys

My 4-year-old granddaughter spends every weekend with me and refuses to pick up her toys. I explain to her that what ever I have to pick up will go into a plastic bag and she will have to earn them back. That worked for a while, but now it doesn't matter to her. She just sits and watches while I put the toys in a plastic bag. Any suggestions you may have as to what else I can try would be greatly appreciated.

The truth is many kids today simply have too many toys! That's the bottom line why she doesn't miss a few plastic bags full of what your thought were her very precious possessions. Plus, the fact that when these things are out of sight, they are pretty much out of her mind, especially when she has so many others to play with. Most 4-year-olds do not have a need to be tidy, organized or on time as we adults do. They have a need to wonder, dawdle, explore, imagine, and live in the moment-- the focus of which is totally centered on what they want.

Here are some of the suggestions from my new book called "The Pocket Parent", from the chapter called "Picking up the toys."

  • Use a warning (such as a verbal announcement or the buzz of a timer) to help your granddaughter get psychologically tuned-in and ready for cleanup time in five minutes (when the timer goes off). She will clean up better and fuss less when she knows it's coming.
  • Help her get started by breaking cleanup down into small manageable steps. Say, "Honey let's first pick up the puzzles and put them on the shelf."
  • Talk in a silly voice or sing a song to make the job more fun. Whistle while you work like the dwarfs in Snow White. Pretend you are a doll talking and say, Oh, I'm so tired, please put me in the bin so I can go to sleep." Lighten up with her...you'll be surprised how she will cooperate...at least a few times!
  • Be specific in your requests as the example above, rather than saying, "Clean up this mess this instant...or else I'm putting everything in my ransom bag!
  • Ask an inviting question to get the job done like, "I wonder who knows where the crayons belong?"
  • When everything is everywhere, and the task is overwhelming, pitch in yourself. Say, "Grandma's going to hold the box next to you so you can put all the cards in it. Wow! That's what I call cooperation!" 
  • Challenge you granddaughter to a race. "I'll bet you can't put all the doll clothes in the plastic bag before I throw the newspaper in the garbage can...ready, set, go!" (then, of course, let her win!)
  • Give her a specific quota: "Please pick up five things...and start counting." This is much easier to manage than being told to clean up the entire room and the kids usually enjoy counting the things they put away.
  • Make a chart and give stickers for cleaning up. She can earn a special reward when she gets 5 stickers.

Using these skills takes practice, but when they work, it sure makes life easier. There are hundreds of more tips in the book. If you get it, let me know how the suggestions work on your granddaughter.

- Gail Reichlin