The Toy Pick Up Miracle

I can't tell you exactly how many times I've Googled "toy pickup tips," but I'm guessing it's between one thousand and one million times. It seemed no matter what I tried, nothing worked - at least not more than a few times. I thought I was doing all the right things. I started teaching my daughter to pick up her toys when she was a toddler and I had her toys organized according to type, each bin, basket, or drawer labeled with a picture of what should go inside. But it still seemed I was constantly tripping over toys. My husband, not usually one to complain about a messy house, started complaining, too.

I tried using a timer. "Honey, I'm setting this timer for five minutes. Let's see how many toys we can pick up before the timer rings." My daughter still dawdled and had barely picked up anything in five minutes' time. I tried making it a game. For example, "Miss, let's see how many red toys you can find and put in the toy bin." She always ended up getting distracted by a certain toy, sitting down to play with it instead of picking up. I tried helping her with pick up. I tried making her do it all herself. I even resorted to "The Pickup Fairy." I told her, "The pick up fairy is visiting tonight, and she'll check to see if all your toys are put away. If they aren't, she'll take them away." This worked initially, but I felt so guilty about lying to my daughter, I stopped using this technique (even after a friend said, "It's not a lie. You are the pickup fairy."). I found a cute pick up song online and played it. "Let's see if we can get all the toys picked up before the song ends." This worked for a few weeks, then my daughter began to scream, "No, not the pickup song!" and every pickup session became a battle again. Soon I found myself yelling at my preschooler, nagging, threatening, cajoling. Ugh. That's not the kind of mom I want to be. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so one day I said, "Miss, I'm going to turn on the pickup song. When it's over, any toys you haven't put away in the living room are going to be mine. I'll put them in a bag and keep them for a week." My daughter didn't much like this idea. She kept trying to turn off the song, even when I told her if she succeeded, I would take all the toys. I stayed passive - almost nonchalant - through this, keeping myself busy with a chore of my own, and soon she was putting toys away as fast as she could. When the song was over, I silently picked up toys off the floor and put them in a bag. She screamed and tried to take some toys back, but I quickly herded them into my bedroom. "Okay, honey," I said, "now it's time to pick up the toys in the kitchen. Remember, when the song is over if there are any toys not put away, they are mine for a week." She protested and said, "Play that song all day, Mommy!" but this time she moved quickly, putting away her favorite toys first, and finally finishing long before the song was over. "I knew you could do it!" I said, giving her a big hug. She was very proud. And I was a whole lot less stressed. What I learned from this experiment is that if you truly expect something age-appropriate from your kids, they will live up to your expectations. There's a bonus to this method, too. If you pay attention, you'll see that favorite toys get put away first - which gives you plenty of ideas on toys that can be donated to charity. How do you manage toy pickup at your house? UPDATE 08/15/11: For all you exasperated moms out there, please note: While this method worked really well for several months, it then made our lives more exasperating. My daughter now cries and begs when I even mention picking up toys. In fact, she's so busy doing this, she doesn't pick up any toys at all. Toy pick up time is dramatic and awful at our house. Any tips?? Bookmark and Share

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