Take one look around your child’s room – or your entire house and you will realize that you have likely over indulged your child a bit. If you are like the average family, your home is a mixture of grown up décor that combines with a malady of brightly colored toys that come with dozens of pieces, make noise and are designed to keep your child occupied for hours at a time. (Yeah, right!) And sadly, you are likely the one that gets so tired of picking up toys that your child ‘just had to have,’ kicking them out of the way, finding them in the couch cushions and stepping on them in the middle of the night that you have blurted out in haste to your child, “If YOU don’t pick up your toys, I will throw them away!” (Which might not be such a bad idea!) Kind of makes you miss the days when all you had to do to get your child to clean up their toys was stick in a Barney CD with the “clean up, clean up,” song.
So is throwing these toys away really the solution? Or is there another way for parents to convey the message that every toy in the house has its proper place without being fearful that your OCD tendencies are going to injure your child’s psyche long term?
The first thing you have to ask yourself is you are buried in toys that are lying around the house is whether or not you have over stimulated your child by providing too much. On average, children don’t need a houseful of things to do. In fact, one of the things that can make children feel overloaded is having too many things around them. If this is the case, then a simple solution is to go through your home and scale back on toys. You don’t have to throw them away, or even give them away. One great idea is to simply pack them away and put them out of sight for a while. This way, your child can truly spend their time with the things that they are into at the moment. And in the future, you will have a fresh sampling of toys to offer your kids without having to go out and by them. And, you should tackle this toy organization task when your child is away. If they are with you when you do it and you ask for their input, chances are you what be able to eliminate much of the toy clutter. But if you just do it, they likely won’t even know they are missing items in their home.
Once you have made things a little more manageable, you should sit down with your child and review your expectations. Tell your child that it will be their responsibility to put their toys away when they are done playing. In the beginning, they will have to be reminded to put their toys away. And you can even ask your child not to get every single toy out of their room all at once and instead play with just a few items at a time to avoid an avalanche of toys being strewed upon your home. Make a chart, and reward your child with stars, use a jelly bean jar or some other reward-based system that keeps the attention on them doing a good job taking care of their stuff. You can even give your child points that can add up to dollars for a new toy down the road.
Of course, there also has to be a consequence. When you and your child have spent time going over the toy chaos expectations and you see them making progress, you can actually start taking toys away from them if they do not respect the rules. If they leave out their horses, toy trucks or blocks and start in on another toy mess in the home then simply bag up the toys they left behind. You then, can either come up with a system to donate them to a needy family or give your child an opportunity to earn their toys back with good behavior. Make sure you child sees you doing this, so that they can understand the full realm of the consequence. And, no matter what you do, don’t cave in to crying or unreasonable pleas and tantrums about the toys being taken away.
Another way to get kids to pick up their toys is to use a cleaning time at home. When evening draws near and you know you are down to mealtime, bath, and books – turn on some music and make a family event of cleaning up the home. If you have multiple children in your home, you can use this cleaning time as a way to focus on specific areas around the home that need tidying up and get twice as much work done in half the time. And this way, you aren’t hounding and nagging your child throughout the entire day to clean up their mess, and you aren’t left with the messes to deal with on your own once the kids go to bed. As a bonus, you might just find that you can relax a little more when the house is neat and tidy and the kids are asleep.
You also have to realize that just as parents enjoy their knick-knacks and decorations around the home, children enjoy their stuff. Sure, it might not fit in with décor. It might pose obstacles at times when you are trying to get around. But, it is their stuff and they too should be able to utilize and play with their things at their own home. And when it comes to their rooms, you should try to keep your over sensitivity to a mess at bay. Allow your children to claim their own space and to own their own space in the home. At some point, they will realize that living in the mess and chaos of toys will not be self-fulfilling and will try to organize it on their own. It is very important that you keep your keen sense of design to yourself when it comes to what is aesthetically pleasing in your child’s room, lest they feel like you are stealing ownership and being over controlling. Plus, you can always just shut the door and not have to see the mess.