Baby Messes

Power Play

Your child's capacity to make a mess will only grow as he gets older. His hand-eye coordination steadily increases, enabling him to spot that cup of fruit punch, pick it up, and pour its contents onto your white rug.

In addition to learning about cause and effect, mess-making also makes 2-year-olds feel powerful. "Messes at this age reflect their feelings of control -- 'Look what I can do!'" says Nancy Balaban, a member of the graduate faculty at the Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention Program at Bank Street Graduate School of Education in New York City. "They'll turn over a big box of blocks, or pull out your pots and pans just to see if they can carry them."

Two-year-olds also enjoy experimenting with their newfound independence. "As children approach their second birthday, they gain a stronger sense of themselves," says Acredolo. "Now they are interested in assessing their abilities. When 2-year-olds throw toys, kick blocks, or drip ketchup on the rug, they are often testing how strong they are, how fast they are, how clever they are, and so on."

For Shari Malyn of Newton, Massachusetts, this display of physical power became apparent in an unusual way. "When my daughter was 2, I took her to a cafe," she says. "I wasn't paying attention to her until I noticed people looking at us and laughing. Ellie was putting little containers of half-and-half in her mouth and then chomping down to make them explode! She loved watching the liquid squirt on the floor."

As many parents will attest, 2-year-olds also use messes to attract attention. They are becoming more social and like to see reactions to their new achievements. "One evening our son was mad because it was bedtime and he didn't want to go to sleep," says Lori Freeman of Edgemont, New York. "He discovered the jar of Vaseline we kept in his room, and he came downstairs covered in it from head to toe!"

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