All blog posts

#AskAlyson: Playroom Pandemonium

Tags: , , ,

Dear Alyson,

How do I teach my kids to respect their toys, and respect our space, and us, and everything by putting their toys back where they belong…not in the middle of the kitchen floor, etc.? SO FRUSTRATED! I’ve tried leaving it until they’re home to put it away. I’ve tried taking it and putting it in a box out of reach, making them earn it back by doing other necessary clean up. The message isn’t sticking. I think we’ve had 3 massive clean ups of the playroom over Christmas break. Exhausted.



Hey Anonymous,


Thanks for the question, I hope more people continue to take advantage of my #AskAlyson option!


Your question strikes to the core of parenting and child guidance. How do we train our children for life? How do we teach them social protocols and learn to get along with others? Cleaning up after yourself and not leaving a mess for others to deal with is teaching children about respect for order and respect for others. Important life lessons!


So, here is how we go about this. It will take time and it will get worse before it gets better, but hang in there!


  1. Set Them Up For Success: Most families have too much stuff out which makes the play room look like a bomb went off. It’s just too overwhelming for kids. There should only be a mess big enough that they can clean it all up, by themselves, in about 5 minutes. Any bigger a mess, or longer a time, and they will likely just sit down and cry that they can’t do it.


  1. Take Time For Training: Show them where everything goes, and your expectation for what a clean room looks like.



  1. Decided Together: Ask for input on when a good time for cleaning up should be.  Kids are more likely to be co-operative around rules and routines that they had some say in creating democratically. One family I worked with decided as a family that arts and craft would be done at the table and cleaned up immediately, while bigger building games like forts were only for the basement where they could stay up instead of being put away each day. The living room had to be put back in order every evening and personal possession returned to everyone’s room before supper.   For your help resistant kids, you may want to have the simplest starting point; I suggest “toys in the family room must be picked up before supper” as a good place to begin.


  1. Enforce The Routine With A “When/Then” Statement: “When your toys are put away, then I’ll know you’re ready for dinner”. This replaces threating statements like; “if you don’t clean up there will be no dinner for you”. Instead you are simply keeping the kids accountable for their responsibilities and maintaining the social order: first we clean then we eat.


  1. Be Consistent: This is where things tend to derail. If you step in and clean up for them, they will not believe the job is theirs to do. It will not feel like they are looking after their responsibilities, but instead they will interpret the request to clean up as being put upon. It will feel as if they are your indentured servant and you are just ordering them around like slave labor. Who wouldn’t resist and refuse?


  1. Be Kind: It’s important that your tone and mannerism stay pleasant, trusting and calm. You need not remind or nag. Let the situation unfold. They won’t jump right to work, but if you let them go about their business, eventually they will get hungry and want to come to the supper table where you will be happily and quietly eating. Then it will dawn on them that they must meet the conditions required to come to the table – AKA they must put away their toys. Eventually hunger will motivate them!


  1. Be a Broken Record: Don’t get verbal. Instead simply repeat like a broken record; “Yes, when your job is done, then I’ll know your ready to eat.  Yes, when your job is done, then I’ll know you’re ready to eat. When your job is done.”. The less you say the better. And saying the same line helps re-inforce that you are not wavering or negotiating. Again – watch the tone. Keep it friendly.


  1. Be Patient: You may have to ride this one out for a while. But hang in there. They will complain and test you and try to defy you. But, all you need to do is to trust them to figure out the relationship between being responsible for their duties and moving forward with the family routine. They will get there!


Let us know how it goes. I suspect you were on the right path with your earlier efforts but gave up too soon, were inconsistent, or showed signs of aggravation that made it more interesting for them to defy you and push your buttons. I hope these new tips will help.


Best of luck,

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

Leave a Reply