As much as parents love taking care of their children, part of parenting is letting children become independent at some point. One of the earliest forms of responsibility is cleaning up after oneself, but at what age should a child clean up after themselves?
A child can begin cleaning up after themselves as early as 16-18 months old, as long as the tasks are simple enough (e.g., putting away their toys). As they grow older, they can expand their responsibility over themselves with more complex tasks.
This article will discuss the importance of children cleaning up after themselves and the factors involved that can help you determine whether they are ready to clean up after themselves or not.
Why is Cleaning After Themselves Important?
Although you will still be there to primarily take care of them, there are a few reasons why you, as a parent, should be concerned with your children cleaning up after themselves.
Firstly, teaching your children to clean up after themselves sets them on a path to learning how to be responsible.
For the most part, children get messy as a consequence of their own actions (i.e., playing out in the dirt, horseplaying during meals, not being careful, etc.). Therefore, getting them to clean up after themselves helps them understand that they are indeed responsible for the things they do.
In addition to responsibility, a second reason why you should allow your child to clean up after themselves is to begin letting them feel independent.
From the day they were born, they had to rely on you for every single thing. However, you know very well that there will come a point when they have to begin being self-reliant. Their independence does not need to start so abruptly – cleaning up after themselves can be an easy place for them to start.
Aside from the psychological reasons for letting your kid clean up after themselves, another good reason is to simply allow them to keep working on their motor skills and functions. Cleaning up after themselves can be a complex activity that will surely get them working on their hand-eye coordination.
At What Age Should a Child Clean Up After Themselves?
Cleaning up after themselves can be a long and tedious chore, but it does not have to start that way. Understandably, your toddler might not be able to fold their clothes, but they can always start somewhere easy.
For the most part, children can learn to begin cleaning up after themselves around 16-18 months. However, you will need to make sure that their tasks are appropriate for their age levels.
At such an early age, your child should be able to put away their own toys and have some degree of responsibility over their belongings.
As soon as they are able to follow simple instructions, the first ways your kid can clean up after themselves is by putting their toys away, placing used clothing in a hamper, wiping up spills, piling books on a shelf or table, and so on.
While they might not be able to complete more complex tasks on their own, they can definitely help you do them as well.
As your child grows older, the more you can expect them to clean up after themselves. At a certain point, you should even expect them to do so without you having to tell them to.
When your kid reaches four to five, you can get them to make their bed, help set and clear the table, carry and put away groceries, sort laundry, and even help clean their own rooms.
From ages six to eight, they can take out the trash, clean with a vacuum or a mop, fold laundry, and more. Beyond these age ranges, you can already expect your kid to clean up after themselves.
Factors to Determine Whether They are Ready to Clean Up After Themselves
Understandably, every child is different from one another. While someone’s child may be able to perform more complex tasks at a certain age, that does not mean your child can do so as well. Inversely, your child might be able to do so even earlier.
Instead of basing tasks to assign your child on their age, you could also look into the different factors that will inform you if your child is ready or not to clean up after themselves.
Able to Communicate
Probably the first and most important factor in determining whether your child is ready to clean up after themselves is the ability to communicate.
Given that your child would need instructions or directions from you to clean themselves, it seems like a no-brainer that they would need to be able to convey and understand information from you.
Communication milestones vary depending on the age of the baby. From four to six months old, their communication is typically limited to cries and baby sounds. Some parents usually expect first words around one year old.
As mentioned earlier, you will probably be looking between their first and second birthdays to begin getting them to clean up after themselves as it is around that time their communication skills are further developing.
There are some cases when parents are able to convey information without any use of verbal communication at all. Sometimes, children can understand what parents mean when they pick up scattered toys accompanied with a stern look.
Able to Follow Instructions
In addition to the ability to communicate, you would need a child that is able to follow instructions.
Between ages one to two, children are usually more than able to follow short sentences – typically composed of two to three words (e.g., stay there, no TV, come here, bedtime, etc.).
With such a short range of words they can follow, it seems logical that the tasks you can expect your child should be appropriately gauged. For example, “put toys away” seem reasonable enough for a child in this age group.
When deciding what age should you start teaching your child to clean up after themselves, you need to consider the child’s maturity level as well as their ability to communicate and follow instructions. You must also ensure that the tasks you assign to them are age-appropriate. One of the best ways you can encourage your child to clean up after themselves is by making it enjoyable through games, music, or rewards.