Mess Anxiety!! Here is how I have Rationalized and Embraced It.
Posted on October 04 2020
I remember before I had kids, I was totally disgusted by those pics people would post of their kid with food smeared all over their face, in their hair, on their clothes . . . gross. Did they stage those photos, and if yes, WHY?
But I’ve been reformed. I get it now. As a mom of three boys, I’m no stranger to messes, including at the kitchen table. My 12yo somehow still gets a milk mustache, while my youngest manages to get more rice on the floor than in his mouth to this day. And chocolate ice cream? EVERYWHERE. In the little crevices around lips, all the way up to cheekbones. I’m not sure how it happens, but I know these kids really, really enjoy dessert.
While I admit food messes sometimes still gross me out, and I do think it’s important for my kids to have good table manners, I would say that, in general, I’m one of those parents who subscribes to the belief that we should “Let them be messy.” Am I alone? Sometimes it seems like I am – even within my own household, where my husband cringes over dirt and cooking messes and arts and crafts and especially glitter.
Some people don’t let their kids make slime at home. Or play with clay. Or paint anything. And that’s totally fine – I bet their floors and tables look nicer than mine in general. But here’s why I’m ok to let my kids (and their friends, when they’re here) be messy:
When kids aren’t worried about whether they dropped a piece of clay on the floor or spilled some flour while they were baking, they can fully immerse themselves in their activity and have FUN! I’m not suggesting they purposely make a mess or throw ingredients around, but to not have to worry about the overall environment they’re in, they tend to feel a lot more free to laugh and go all-in.
When they go all-in on their activity, you can see their eyes sparkle with new ideas and their minds start cranking away -- suddenly, the landscape picture they started painting becomes a sea monster and then a mix of colors on a planet they invent themselves. It’s awesome, exciting, and a great way to get them exploring creatively with their minds, and their hands. Tactile exploration, whether it’s in strategically planned-out sensory bins or painting their hands, can teach them a lot.
They’re learning while they get messy! My son loves to make mini volcanoes with baking soda and vinegar, and then talk about what is happening. And, of course he asks a lot of questions, too . . . many of which I can’t actually answer! But aside from sparking curiosity, messy projects can also teach process (like dipping paint brushes into water between colors) and tastes (sugar and flour may look similar, but they don’t taste similar!) to do’s and don’ts (don’t eat the batter with raw egg in it!).
One of the best parts of the messy fun I have with my kids is the memories we inevitably make in the process. Our table and floor get MESSY when we bake our favorite pumpkin bread, but the first time I ever made it was with my oldest son, when he was 2 ½ years old, and it was our first day home with his newborn brother and my husband’s first day back to work. It has a special place in my heart, and now, every time we make the pumpkin bread together, we talk about the first time we ever tried it out.
Of course, there’s also the time we were finger-painting, and my boys went a little too far – but now that’s a funny story about how I carried them up the stairs with their hands in the air and put them straight in the bath!
Easy clean up:
That brings me to an important part of why I’m ok letting my kids get messy. I choose or plan activities with easy-clean up! I rely on washable magic markers and paints, disposable plastic table cloths, a handheld compact vacuum, wet wipes, paper towels, and of course, the hose. If you mentally prepare yourself for a big mess but finish it off with an easy clean-up, you may find yourself as comfortable as I am with messy projects, and your kids laughing and loving it.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Finger painting – we love to mix a few colors together with gentle swirls on a paper plate, press our hands into the mess, and then make handprint holiday cards or pictures to hang on the walls!
- Spin art
- Tracing our hands and making creatures out of them
- Gluing popsicle sticks, pomp oms, sequins, pipe cleaners, and other simple supplies
- Baking, baking, and more baking!
- Making potions (Give the kids a pot from the kitchen, and then let them pour in water, some spices you can spare, any past-date cereal that you were ready to throw out anyway, etc.)
- Science experiments! Mini-volcanoes, making crystals, food coloring in the bath tub.
- MUD!!!! My boys love to run outside in the rain, and, of course, to also build mud cities! Hose them down after, or bring them straight to the bath tub!
Do you feel comfortable letting your kids get messy?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This original content piece was written by Karen Lesh. Karen is a new contributor to our lollaland original content series. She is a marketing executive and mom of 3 boys. Karen is an avid writer on her own personal blog (www.mobtruths.com) as well as being featured on Scary Mommy, Her View From Home, Today's Parents and more.
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