I just got done having a 30-minute long fighting match with my kids. Wanna know why? They wouldn't clean up their toys.
No matter how hard I try, no matter how much planning I do to keep it from happening, no matter how nice I am all day long... once it comes to clean-up time, I become a mama monster when my kids just will not get it together and clean up!
So considering the fact that I am drowning in toys and kids who seem to go deaf whenever they hear the words "Clean up!", how on earth do I make this easier for myself? And easier for my kids?
Start EarlySomething that I definitely recommend, and wish I had been better about, is to start teaching your babes early to clean up after themselves. The earlier you start the expectation of cleaning up after themselves, the more likely they will understand how to do it correctly later on. The only reason I'm wishing I had done it sooner, is that I'm trying to work on it with my 4-year-old and my 18-month-old is taking notes, and I have that glimmer of hope that when she is 4, she might be a titch better at picking up after herself.
Teach and ModelIt's hard for mamas to remember when they have had long days and are dying to get to bed or to the TV or the shower (or all 3) that sometimes we demand things from our littles and they aren't sure what or how to do it. I notice this especially with my daughter, but even with my son, I will say something that makes perfect sense to me, like "Stack the books in the cupboard," my littles look around like I just spoke Japanese. So even though we're tired, and we sure as heck didn't dump out the buckets of plastic food all over the family room floor, we should sit down there with them and show them what we mean when we say, "Put this away," or "Clean this up." Even just sitting on the floor and holding the bucket while your kids put the toys away is a major help to them!
I am not ashamed that I offer rewards to my kids when they get things done. I'm also not ashamed that when they take their sweet time doing something, or drag their feet, or whine and cry about it, they don't get that reward. It's all about letting them know the types of behaviors that are rewarded. Something that we started doing in our house that really helps my kids is we set a couple of timers. One is set for 5 minutes, and one is set for 10. If they clean up all the toys by the 5 min mark, then they get to have a treat and an extra story before bedtime. If they finish clean up by the 10 min mark, they get an extra story. If they don't finish by the 10 minute timer then they don't get anything. Hearing the timer, and letting my son see the amount of time he has left to clean up, really helps him to understand how much time he has and to get it done quickly.