Kids & Company Blog

Tidy Up Time: The Importance of Cleaning Up Their Own Mess


Written by Victoria Sopik, Kids & Company's CEO

Children love to play and make messes, but they rarely think about cleaning up after. As a mother of eight and now a grandmother of eleven, I have a lot of experience with children making a mess and just walking away without a care in the world. However, I have always encouraged my children to clean up their own mess as well as helping their siblings and friends clean up their messes.

I believe that learning to tidy up after themselves provides children with a sense of responsibility and accountability. In the long run, instilling this responsibility in my children at a young age has helped them become self-sufficient, capable adults.

Why I Believe Children Should Clean Up After Themselves

Children are perfectly capable of cleaning up after themselves, so why do parents do it for them? Often, we think if we do it ourselves, it will be done faster (and better.) It is often much easier to just clean up than to guide and remind kids about cleaning. The problem is it doesn’t teach our children anything. Asking children to tidy up after themselves gives them discipline, skills, and a sense of responsibility and pride. These qualities will be useful as they grow older and become "messy" teenagers; they'll be much more likely to keep their things tidy if they've always had the responsibility to do so.

It’s important to remember that this is not an easy task and not to get discouraged. In my household, many of my children were "banned" from taking food and drink out of the kitchen. This was my "final consequence" after many abandoned crumb-covered plates and dirty glasses had been left randomly around the house! This was a rule that I implemented that my children were able to understand. If they did not clean up their dirty plates, then they couldn’t take food out of the kitchen. I always tried to refrain from controlling my children, while still giving them clear rules to follow.

The Value of Cleaning Up

Cleaning up is a very important learning experience that we don’t want to take away from our children. It has been said that children should play and they don’t need to worry about cleaning up – that’s an adult’s job. However, I believe this responsibility is essential as we teach our children to grow into self-sufficient, independent adults.

If we teach our children to tidy, we are helping them develop valuable life skills. It’s clear that children are slower than adults at cleaning up, which is why we often do it ourselves. However, it’s vital that we do not rush our children when they are cleaning, and we encourage them to do as much as they can.

Something that worked for me was using cleaning up as a reward rather than a punishment. Once they clean up, they have the green light to do something else. With this mentality, cleaning becomes a much less daunting task.

The Importance of Encouraging Teamwork

Encouraging our children to help their siblings and friends clean up also encourages a sense of teamwork and partnership. It’s important for children to understand that helping others is the right thing to do and although it's not their mess, their siblings/friends appreciate their teamwork.

In our house, we have a lot of hands-on deck, meaning that at clean up time, everyone has a task to do. We like to make clean up time a family affair because it’s more fun for the kids, and the job doesn’t feel so tiresome. I luckily have 8 children to spread these jobs over!

As soon as they were about 2 years old and walking, I encouraged my children to bring their plates to the kitchen. Of course, this ended in a LOT of plates on the floor. But at least they made an effort to contribute to the tidying of the meal or snack.

Do you believe in teaching children to tidy up? I’d love to hear your parenting perspective!