I’m sure I’m not the only parent who is frustrated by how much energy and effort it can take to get your child to clean up.

I mean, they played with the damn toys, why the hell can’t they just clean up!

It seems like a really simple request, right? It’s not like we’re asking them to clean up our mess….just theirs.

Well, here’s the thing. What we see as mess, they see as hard work!


Let me help put this into perspective for you….

You have this wonderful idea in your mind for a project at work. Something that you know if you work hard, you can create.

You spend hours working on getting it just right. Effectively, you’re bringing your idea into creation.

It took a few tries to get it exactly so, and now you’re feeling proud of all your hard work.

You’re finally getting the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Then… your boss comes in and without any thought to all the effort it took to bring your creation into reality, he tells you to stop what you’re doing and pack it all away.

That’s right, pack it all away…NOW!

This is not open for discussion. All your hard work is to be disassembled and put away.

And before you’ve gotten a chance to even start carefully storing it, he starts packing it all up and you’re threatened that you will lose your job if you so much as offer a word of protest and don’t toe the line and get it packed away…NOW!!!!


So, how are you feeling?

At a guess, I’m going to say frustrated, mad, upset, sad, disappointed to name a few.

Well, in a lot of cases that’s just what your kids are feeling after they’ve “worked hard” on brining one of their play ideas into reality.

It might be blocks, a puzzle, an imaginary scene using their dolls or figurines, play-dough, or any other number of constructive ways in which your child plays.

You see, Einstein had it right:

Our kids are researching and learning every time they play. And sometimes we need to give them more credit than we do.


So, now that you’ve put yourself in their shoes, how are you feeling about their behaviour when you come over and tell them to pack something away that they have been working really hard on? That in all likelihood you haven’t even acknowledged as full of effort and learning.

Look, I get it, having a mess everywhere can be really frustrating. And the fact that you then have to fight with your child just adds to your emotional load.

But, maybe there is room for a compromise. Maybe this is something that they really would like to come back to and revisit tomorrow, learning even more.

In saying this, I definitely don’t always get it right, and can often find myself in a power struggle over packing toys away. After all, it’s our job as parents to promote a sense of responsibility in our children; to have them be able to pick up after themselves and not rely on others or expect others to do so.

In fact, just the other day, when it came to clean up time, I found myself in just such a power struggle. I had brought out the train tracks box at my son’s request. He had even agreed that he would clean it up when he was done.

Only, when I asked him to pack everything away he was inconsolable. There were tears, and sobbing and big emotions that were overwhelming his little body.

I took a deep breath, and let out a big sigh.

I recognised that he had spent a solid 30 mins creating his track, just so, and setting up the village etc. So I had the following conversation with him:

Me: Buddy I can see by your body that you’re feeling really mad and sad about this. I want to understand why you’re upset and see if we can come up with a solution that works for both of us. Come over and give me a hug and we can talk about this and I will try to understand.

Son: continues crying and trying to catch his breath, but after a minute he slowly walks over to me with his arms out for a hug.

(As I patted his back and held him I took some deep breaths myself, modelling what I wanted him to do. We’ve worked on this at calm times.)

M: Ok, what seems to be the problem with packing up? You told me when I got the train set out that you would pack it away when you were done.

S: Yes mumma but I want to keep it. I want to play with it more.

M: Oh, I see. You spent a lot of time working really hard on your train track didn’t you?

S: Yes! And now you’re ruining it!

M: Ok, so what you’re saying to mumma is that you don’t want to pack it away because you want to keep it together so you can play with it again tomorrow?

S: Yes because I really love it mumma.

M: Ok, well it’s not safe if we leave it out here, but maybe we can think of somewhere for it to go that’s not in the middle of the area where people walk, and it’s not taking up so much space, but somewhere that you can pull it out tomorrow and play with it again. Do you have any ideas?

Eventually this led to a compromise that we could both live with. We ended up agreeing to move it over underneath the Invitation to Play table.

The next day we pushed it back over to a free area of floor space, and even though some of the village fell over, he was really excited to be able to play with it again.


He even extended the play by using his nerf gun and being a “bad guy” who was going to shoot the train.

He also let his sister play with him, and when it came to packing up, he happily complied, because he was ready and it didn’t seem so overwhelming.








They even came up with more “research” and learning as they packed it away. They used one of the tracks as a conveyor belt up to the box and worked together to get everything packed away.

The smile on her face says it all. And this is what I call win/win.

He was even willing to use the vacuum to make sure it was really clean.











So, the next time that you are about to enter a power struggle over cleaning up, or your child is really emotional just at the idea of having to pack something away, put yourself in their shoes.

Is it something that they have worked really hard on?

Does it really¬†have to be packed away in it’s entirety, or is there a compromise that you can come to?

Don’t get me wrong, there might be times where it really needs to be packed away, and there are definitely some valuable lessons to be learnt in dealing with our disappointment. All I’m suggesting is, if you want to take the struggle out of getting them to clean up, sometimes it’s about acknowledging their hard work and considering if it’s possible for them to put it some where they can work on it again easily.


Let’s revisit the scenario where you are at work and your boss comes along with the intention of telling you to pack everything away. Only this time he recognises the effort you have put in. He asks you for input on what you think should happen. He allows you to put it somewhere safe, and even come back to it at a later time.

How does this make you feel?

At a guess, I’m going to say valued, heard, appreciated, special just to name a few.

And we have this opportunity to flip the script when dealing with our children. Instead of making them feel frustrated, sad and mad, we have the chance to make them feel valued, heard and appreciated.

Now, isn’t that worth a little “mess”?


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