I want to teach my kids how to take care of their things, and a big part of this is helping them make a habit of cleaning up. Although the rule in our house is that you have to put one thing away before you take out another, we end up with tornado rooms all the time. Here are a few ways I try to make clean-up less painful for everyone.
1. Make light of the situation. Speaking with an easy, upbeat tone can set the mood for the whole process. Rather than, "Oh my goodness, look at this terrible mess! This is going to take forever to clean up!" a cheery "Oh, wow! I think a dinosaur came and threw your toys all over the room" will elicit laughter and camaraderie. I need to practice this, to get myself to lighten up.
2. Work on the mess together. Rather than making declarations about what needs to be done, get in there and clean up with them. Use it as a (non-lecturing) learning opportunity: "I want to help you. I didn't make the mess, but I love you and I want to help you." I always tell my kids that "We are a family. We help each other." Cleaning up together this way is an excellent way to model helpful, pitching-in behavior while also subtly reinforcing the notion that mommy or daddy are not the servants.
3. Sing a song. Or at least put some music on. Not only will it energize everyone cleaning up, but it will also help lighten the mood and contribute to the the fun.
As good old Mary Poppins taught us, making a difficult task just a little more palatable helps us get it done — and this life skill, even beyond keeping a tidy space, is certainly something worth passing along.