Easy Ways to Accept (and Encourage!) Kids' Messes

Embracing the Mess

Crayola Grand Canvas

There are ways to allow kids to get messy, dream big, and learn lots without relying on paint-with-water books.

Start saving newspapers now! Cover the floor under play tables with newspapers, reusable tarps, even plastic garbage bags sliced at the seams.

Take the mess outside. Not only does this keep kids from mucking up your kitchen, but it also gives them room to get really creative (read: messy). Try these ideas:

-- Take an old sheet or roll of butcher paper, and hang it from a clothesline or between two trees. Give kids squirt bottles full of tempera paint or water colors, and let them unleash their inner Pollock.

-- Let kids turn your garage doors, front stoop, or driveway into a neighborhood gallery with sidewalk chalk, then hose it down.

-- Place your child's easel in the yard. If you have a rolling chalkboard that you can move out there, even better.

Corral tiny parts. If your child loves to play with Legos or other building sets, first spread out a large beach towel or sheet and allow them to play on top of it. When she's done playing, fold the sides of the sheet in to capture all the pieces.

Your bathtub is an invaluable resource. Finger painting can be a lot less scary for parents if your child's doing it in an empty bathtub -- most washable paints will come right off your tub. Or buy colored soap paints for children: Basically, these get kids clean as they make a mess.

Confine the mess. If you don't have a playroom, consider giving your child free creative reign of another place in your home, like their bedroom or the basement. Room size doesn't matter -- many kids actually really enjoy the coziness of small places (like the bathtub, above), so it's no surprise we often find children having turned their closet into a fort. If your child has a tiny space like that, allow it to be his area to do with what he wants for an afternoon, within reason. (And if there really are areas that you don't want your toddler entering, put up baby gates or close and lock doors.)

Take a 10-minute tidy. Set a timer, give your child a few tasks (putting away toys, shelving books and games, dusting with static wipes), and spend 10 minutes picking up and wiping down. You'd be amazed at how much you can accomplish in less time than it takes to bake a frozen pizza -- and how it doesn't take a full house scrub-down for you to feel better about how your home looks.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, July 2006.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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