Now that the holidays are over, my preschooler and first grader’s rooms, overflowing with new toys and games, are worse than ever. They seem totally inept at keeping their stuff in order. Do you have any suggestions?

First you need to remember that children don’t see a mess the same way adults see it. When we see clutter, we can organize it in our minds. Young children lack this ability. When they see toys spread out over a floor they see three times as many as there actually are. So the task of cleaning up all of those toys can be overwhelming to them.

Try teaching your children how to organize a mess by breaking down the task into small steps. Get them started by helping them pile all the like objects together — all the books, all the cars, all the blocks, all the dolls, etc. Then they can work on putting away one pile at a time.

Children are more likely to keep their rooms tidy if you organize the space first.
Keep in mind that children need accessible storage space. If they don’t have low, open shelves, build some out of cement blocks and boards.
Use plastic baskets or boxes to separate items on the shelves. Label each box so they know what goes where.
Many children are young collectors. Help them organize their collections with scrapbooks, clear plastic boxes, shelves and bulletin boards.
Get kids into the habit of separating their laundry by providing labeled laundry bags for dirty clothes. The bags, which can be drawstring plastic bags or shopping bags with handles, should be labeled “light” and “dark.”
Give children smiles, hugs and verbal praise when they try to do a better job of keeping rooms neat. Specifically describe the ways they are doing better so that your praise is meaningful.

A chart (or calendar) and gold stars or stickers can be very motivating.
Set a goal. Plan a reward that kids will receive after a certain number of terrific weekly room inspections.

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