Your son eats alone? Results: there are carrots pieces in his overalls, puree in his hair, peas in his socks and the floor is painted in “Minigo”. Better even, you catch him mashing his banana in his bowl.
He plays with dough or draws? Result: your table, his hands and your apron are filled with it too. You go to the park? His powerful radar leads him to every puddle. He brings back three shovels of sand in his shoes and green souvenirs on his knees. Grocery shopping? He wipes his nose with his sleeve and rubs the walls and cars with his hands.
In their quest to autonomy, opposition or experimentation – or all three at once! – our children are quite a handful mess-wise. We often realize that four bathrooms wouldn’t be enough to wash them properly! We always carry wipes top scrub their cheeks and chin every two minutes tops! Worse even, our laundry basket is always full because of that.
Is it experience kicking in?
Perhaps this period of discovery is the cause of the untidiness of our children. It is true that toddlers explore the world through their senses. Isabelle Filliozat, psychologist and author, explained that children between 2 and 3 years have sensorimotor intelligence. They need to feel and touch the world with their mouth and hands. The children are happy doing so, but we're a little exasperated. Finding balance is desirable in this quest to discovery! On one hand, we should not scold him for his experiments, but we must ask him to clean up afterwards with a little help, of course!
If after dinner, he is covered in strawberries / applesauce / soup, it is best not to tell him “You don’t eat very well” or wipe him right away. Instead, take him in front of the mirror and show him what he looks like. Ask him what he sees, look surprised with him, etc. Then, help him to wash up. To add to the fun, choose some funny washcloths or a nice soap. Additional fun makes cleaning up more enjoyable! That way, our toddler is not refrained in his experiments, but gradually becomes conscious of his actions and the consequences they entail.
He is clean for 2 minutes: not one more!
He comes out of the bath feeling good and looking wonderful but he does not stay that way for long! We can try many strategies but it is of no use! Even if we dress him up at the last minute - after meals and other potentially "dirtying" activities – just by the time we get our keys, he managed to find himself mimicking the frog in the only mud puddle on the sidewalk. Provocation? A little, sure! Children are champions of testing our limits. Breaking rules seems to be a source of entertainment!
When such a situation occurs, we try to stay calm and say, "We'll have to go back in and get changed again. You remember? I told you not to do this to avoid having to change again! " Often, children don’t really enjoy getting dressed, washing hands or washing up. This tactic helps him understand the consequences of doing what’s forbidden. The supreme exercise is also ours, as we see time flying by and risk being late while changing him again.
Clumsy, unfocused or careless?
As discouraging as it may be, the answer is probably all at once! It’s not easy to carry a glass of milk into the living room. It’s not obvious to think about placing it on the table before climbing on the couch. It’s not really obvious either; that even a tiny little sip left in a cup can drip on the cushion and leave a big stain.
On our part, we must try to take things with a grain of salt to show him that he can pay attention a little bit more:
- "Your shirt is soaked. It must be uncomfortable! Let’s change it, but you’ll have to stop playing with water!”
- "You spilled juice on the floor? Take this cloth, we’ll clean it all together. "
- "Don’t draw on your face. Take this washcloth and take it off! "
- "It's time for a snack. Go and wash your hands. When you are finished, climb on your little bench and wipe your hands on the towel. "
Learning is made of trial and error. We forget that sometimes. Maybe we are too demanding of our children? We want them to be impeccable, but we also want them to be autonomous and independent. If we do everything for them, we will probably leave them in a state of dependence towards us. Is this really what we want? Think about that... next time you do the laundry!
Mud or bath?
For a toddler, it can be more fun to play with mud than to play in a bath. Cleverly, his mom must learn to use his ability to play with everything to make it fun to wash hands, take a bath and clean up a mess or brush hair. Simulated, maybe, but what a great way to teach the basics of personal hygiene!