Child playing with toys

How to get your kids to pick up their toys!

In Child Development, Kid's Activities, Lifestyle, Pediatric Occupational Therapy by Advance TherapyLeave a Comment

By Bri Dandrea

Picking up toys can lead to distress and fights in the home. This activity is the enemy of all children, and at one point in your life I’m sure you can remember being told “go pick up your toys.” Now as a parent you realize the struggle and difficulty of how to get your kids to pick up their toys?


When children are very young, they have difficulty processing multiple requests at one time. While you are giving the child multiple instructions, they are working to process and then react to your requests all while they are likely in the middle of playing with the toy you have asked them to clean up. To make this easier, start by giving one instruction at a time and allow the child to have a moment to process the request. Then they can move forward and clean up the toys. I have included a couple tips to help make the clean up process easier and more efficient. 


Model expected behavior

Kids learn through watching their parents, picking up both the good and bad habits. If you want them to learn to pick up their mess after an activity, then you have to start picking up your mess after an activity. This shows them what is expected, and they also learn that picking up is just something you do. At younger ages children typically are interested in being your helper. Use this desire to help as a way to teach some clean-up tasks. It helps them feel important and is an easy way to teach them how to clean-up. 


Make it a game

Everything is more fun when you make a game out of it! This has been the most successful tool I have used. You can make it a timed game, to see how fast they can clean-up, or even to see if they can clean up more toys than you. Games are motivating and who doesn’t like a good challenge?



Create a special place for all the toys

When each item has a spot or place it goes all the time, it makes putting that item away easier. Children are still developing problem solving and executive functioning skills, so putting toys away can be a difficult task if there is not a set place for each toy. When there are labeled boxes or there is a system, kids have an easier time picking the toys up. Color coordination is a simple system most children can pick up on quickly. You can also label boxes with pictures of the toys that are to be put in the box. 


5 minute warning

As an adult I don’t love when a task is sprung on me at the last minute. Children are the same way and often struggle with quick transitions. Setting a timer is a good way to give the child a set time for transition. They can prepare themselves for the switch, making the new task less of a fight. 


Try these tips at home, and find the one(s) that works best for your family. It may take more than one attempt to determine which works best for you and your child. Once they find a routine, the child will be more efficient with cleaning up. They may also only need to be instructed once, as they will know the routine.

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