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Why won’t my kids pick up their toys?

If your house is like mine, toys are everywhere — even the bathroom. They multiply like rabbits!

Do you find yourself wondering (or yelling) why don’t my kids pick up their toys?!
I have a few ideas why…

It’s a new gig

The first probable reason our kids don’t pick up their toys is because it’s a new concept to them. We have been picking things up for them their whole life. So it doesn’t naturally occur to them to do it themselves. No child thinks, “How can I give my parent a break?” or “I bet they’d be thrilled if I figured out how to run this dishwasher!” 

Tidying up is a new idea and a new responsibility and it’s not going to happen magically. 

Instead of expecting a child to know how to do a chore intuitively, treat them as you would a valued new employee. Show them what you expect them to do. If they can read, write down the steps in a simple format on a 3×5 card which they can consult the first few times they do the chore.  

Yes, this means extra work for you the first times you guide them. Teaching your kids the habit of cleaning up is a process which is labor-heavy on the front end. For many of us, it seems easier to ignore a pile of toys than to nag about the mess until we get results. 

But imagine a household where the unspoken expectation is that toys are put away before you leave the house or go to bed. Remember the song from pre-school “Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share” That’s parenting gold right there! Embrace it. 

How much clutter is yours?

The second probable reason kids aren’t cleaning up on the regular is because we, their parents, don’t pick up our stuff either. If the house has clutter on every surface, children become used to living with messes. 

There’s no easy way around it: modeling is the most effective way to teach a behavior. 

How do we get kids to pick up their toys?

I know the answer and you probably do, too. But unfortunately it isn’t easy. All of the parenting books on my bookshelf tell me the same thing in different words: follow-through and consistency are important, and healthy boundaries make healthy childrenIt takes patience to teach the skill of picking up toys because there is a training period. You are developing a habit. 

It’s daunting, but definitely possible!

Perfection is the enemy of progress, especially with parenting. So don’t get upset with yourself when you are too tired to hold the line sometimes. Also, it’s okay to have toys all over the house when people come to visit. You have children, right? And it’s their house, too. 

Grab this free list of age-appropriate chores

Right click on the image to download and print it.

Not all kids are Marie Kondo

As you go through this years-long process of modeling and teaching your children how you expect them to take care of their stuff and your home, remember that all people have different strengths. I have found more success with assigning chores which suit each child’s personality and natural tendencies. 

For more on this idea, read the list at the end of this post:

Division of Labor and Caramel Sauce

Thank you for reading. Give yourself some credit because no matter how many toys are on your living room floor, you are doing a great job! 



Kids and laundry are a match made in heaven!

Chores for kids pt. 1: How to answer “BUT MOM! WHYYYY?!”