Q: How do I train my two-year-old to clean up after herself? She’ll go into her sisters’ room and destroy it, and won’t help clean up unless I threaten to punish her. Then she only picks up a couple of things before getting distracted. Frankly, it’s easier for me to clean it up myself. My older girls complain that they have to clean up but their little sister doesn’t. I know this isn’t fair, but what else do I do?
A: As any parent knows, the most challenging task of raising a toddler is setting boundaries. It is important to teach your youngest daughter that she has to clean up the messes that she makes, but that might be an impossible task if the messes are too big. Part of teaching your two-year-old responsibility is not allowing her to get into trouble or create messes that are too big for her to clean up.
To start with, limit her play areas. If she consistently trashes her sisters’ room, make that room off-limits. Keep play spaces confined to her own room or a family room. And in those areas, limit the number of toys she has access to at a given time. For example, give her a choice between playing with the dolls or the blocks. Then, show her how to clean up one thing immediately before she moves on to the next.
What she’s capable of handling is going to grow with time. The lesson of cleaning up a few toys will transfer to greater responsibility in years to come. Resist the temptation to swoop in and clean up for her – but remember that you need to model what clean up does look like. The extra time and effort now will be well worth it as your daughter grows.
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