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How to Get Toddlers to Pick Up Their Toys

Without having to ask and ask (and ask and ask and….)

Streamline the task: "We use my kids’ bottom two dresser drawers for toy storage in their rooms. They’re sturdy and accessible, and don’t require elaborate sorting, like many of the ‘organization solutions’ out there," says Meagan Vanover, a mom of two in New Haven, Michigan. "Since my toddlers can handle it without becoming overwhelmed, they do put their toys away when I ask—and usually without fussing!"

Communicate consistency: "Toddlers better handle the expectation of picking up their toys if it is a consistent one. For instance, a toddler will challenge a parent who wants toys picked up before bedtime if that same parent was okay with leaving the toys out the night before," says Annette DelCanto-Ellington, an Austin, Texas-based psychotherapist and a mom of two. "Clearly communicate your expectation by using a statement like, ‘From now on we will pick up all of the toys every night before bedtime,’ and then follow through." If you must deviate from the norm, explain why (say, you’ve gotten home late), so the lapse doesn’t seem random.

Create a game: "My toddlers may not always want to put away their toys, but they do always want to play games," says Erin McGraw, a mother of two from Dublin. "I make cleaning up more interesting for them by setting a goal for the number of items they’ll put away, and then creating a race to see who can get there first."

Build in transition time: "About 90 percent of all stressful situations between parents and children are time-related," says DelCanto-Ellington. "Allowing your toddler enough time to pick up before bedtime, or any other activity transition, is crucial in keeping tensions to a minimum."

Use your imagination: "The only surefire way I've gotten my kids to pick up their toys is by introducing the ‘Toy Fairy’ into our lives," says Sara Rylander, a mom of two in Kennesaw, Georgia. "Rumor has it she comes while the kids are sleeping and takes away any toys that are left out of place. She’s never actually claimed anything. If my kids whine about picking up, I just say something like, ‘Well, as long as you don’t mind if the Toy Fairy thinks that toy is as fun as you do…’ and they spring into action!"

Adopt the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ mentality: "Children possess a natural desire to be involved in whatever their families are up to," says DelCanto-Ellington. "This is why kids like toy vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers—they want to do what they see their parents doing, and don’t yet define some of that as ‘work’ versus ‘play.’ Take advantage! Making cleaning up a family activity means you model the behavior you’re simultaneously teaching your children. And you’ll have a tidy house to show for it."

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