Get Your Toddler to Clean Up

how do i get my kids to pick up their stuff

Years ago when I was a starving college student I babysat for a family with a sweet little girl named Ashley. Ashley was really well behaved, particularly when it came to cleaning up after herself. No sooner had she finished an activity than she was promptly tidying her play area before heading on to the next thing. When I asked her mom how she got Ashley to be so diligent about cleaning up her stuff, she told me Ashley was afraid of the Toy Police.

You see, Ashley’s parents told her from a young age that the Toy Police stopped by every night to check and see if little kids left their stuff out. If they found anything out, the Toy Police would take it away. She was only four at the time and I imagine this ruse didn’t work forever, but it did teach her the habit of cleaning up after herself and I thought I’d create my own version to help you get your toddler to clean up. I call it, Toy Jail!

toy jail free printable,

The idea is simple. If my kids leave something out, it goes in Toy Jail. If they want to get it back they have to do a chore to retrieve it or, for theme-sake, a “bail bond”. Do you think this will work with your kids? Comment below and let me know! ~Rachel 

get your kids to pick up their toys

Use our Free Printables for the Toy Jail Sign and the Bail Bond tickets. Make up your own age-appropriate chores for your kids to do to get their stuff back. I have a sneaking suspicion this would work or older kids too… just age the chores up!

free printable toy tickets toy jail free printable signfree printable toy tickets free printable chore tickets for kids free printable chore tickets for kids

23 Responses to “Get Your Toddler to Clean Up”

  1. Caroline Trautner

    Hey – loved the idea og making a game out of it – but i got a lump in my throarth with the words: MASSIVE FAIL. I don’t fancy as an adult to be told that I have failed badly – I feel so ashamed if I have failed AND disappointed people – I think this feeling for children is 10 times worse. Would it be an idea to rephrase the card?

    • Rachel Hollis

      Hi Caroline,
      Thanks for your thoughts and your note. As silly as it sounds I used the term “fail” only because I needed something to rhyme with “jail”. In our house we use it irreverently. If I burned the breakfast it’s a “pancake fail” if my 7yo puts his shirt on backwards it’s a “t-shirt fail”. It’s something we say all the time in a silly way and so the word has no real power or true negative connotation for the boys. I can totally understand if you have a strong response to it though. Perhaps just use the bail bond ticket and not the sign? ~Rachel

    • Mary Ann Bankston

      Wish I had this when my kids were little. This would have helped so much.

  2. Sam

    A friend had a “Boredom Jar” – any kid who whined that they were bored had to pick out a task. From laundry, draw a picture, vaccum to “get out of jail” card. Works as a Punishment Jar too!

  3. Linda Miller

    This is really cool! I’ raising my Granddaughter so theses will really come in handy:)

  4. Sheree @ Seaweed & Raine

    Love this idea. I understand what you are saying about the “massive Fail” in a previous comment. Since we don’t really use that term around here, I’d probably just “delete” it (aka remake the sign) to use in our house. Thanks so much for the printables. 🙂

  5. Amber

    How about, “You left your stuff out, gotta pay bail, ’cause now it’s locked in Toy Jail”. How hard are they to design? I might make one like that. 🙂

  6. Jazmin

    Very awesome idea! I just spent three hours cleaning and I’m not very happy about it. No matter how many times I ask my 7 year old son and 4 year old daughter to clean up behind themselves, I end up having to do it. I love this idea. The box is already filled with toys that are in jail lol. Is there any way they could not only do a chore to get a toy out but maybe behavior too? Like no fighting or whining? They argue all day until I separate them so I was wondering how that could go with this maybe?

    • Rachel Hollis

      Hi Jazmin,
      I think you can decide whatever you’d like for toy “bail”. The idea is that they earn it back but the means is totally up to Mommy. =) Rachel

  7. Jen K.

    Love it! My oldest son has always picked up toys so easily.. My youngest son- NO WAY! Can’t wait to try this. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  8. alicia

    LOVE IT! I think the word fail is fine. Everyone fails sometimes. I don’t think we should shy away from using such terms because that makes failing seem like it’s bad. Failing isn’t bad. Failing means you tried and learned what not to do next time. Fear of failure is what holds so many people back. Failing doesn’t make you anything less than human. Fail but never quit!!!

  9. Katie

    I love this idea. I am making an “Uh Oh” Bin this week for toys that are thrown. We have a 2 year old and he is in a nasty habit of throwing toys. He’s not quite to the point that he can understand doing a chore to get it back. Any ideas for how to handle returning the toy to him on his level? I definitely plan on implementing the same concept when he is a little older in regards to him leaving out his toys. Right now we are still learning how to pick up so I am letting that one slide. I just would like him to stop throwing, chucking, or flinging a bucket of toys across the room several times a day.

    • Rachel Hollis

      Hmmm… maybe the next day he gets the toy? It’s tough because at two he’s so little so I’m not sure which concept he’d understand. I think just the act of removing it from him if he’s throwing it is probably a great start toward helping him understand that isn’t allowed.

  10. Lana

    Rachel, I really love you and so much of what you have to say!! I don’t love this idea though. I know it’s supposed to just be cute, but I feel the overall message sent is you only deserve the right to your things if you treat them in the way I see fit. If you don’t then I “punish” you with extra work. I think kids learn more from a whole family attitude that we clean up, we all help each other, we do these things because we love our house and want to keep it tidy, and we love each other and want to help each other. I think in the long run this might not work as well because someday they will realize they don’t care if they get the toy back and then what? I know you are just making a fun game and know also that you seem like such a great mom, but I feel this could send unintended messages. I have 2 kids and we just all try to clean as a family and make it known this is what you do in a family. They aren’t going to always pick up after themselves but that’s ok, I don’t always either. We all need each other’s help!!

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