How to Deal With Your Children’s Messiness

Little people make big messes, and unfortunately for orderly parents, small children are almost always oblivious to their self-made clutter. Knowing that your child isn’t deliberately messy but simply unaware of the need to clean up after herself, teach her (the younger the better) that messes don’t disappear magically – the mess maker (with helpers) cleans them up. Share this fact of life with your child, but don’t expect perfection in her following the rule. Encourage rather than demand neatness by praising the slightest attempt your child makes at playing the cleanup game.

Preventing the Problem

Clean as you go.

Show your child how to put away her toys immediately after she’s done playing, to limit clutter as she bounces from plaything to plaything. Help her pick up the picking-up habit early in life, to encourage her to be a neater child and, later, a more organized adult.

Children's Messiness

Show her how to clean up her mess.

Provide appropriately sized boxes and cans in which your child can store her toys and other playthings. Show her how to fit her things inside the containers and where they go when they’re filled. This way she’ll know exactly what you mean when you ask her to put something away or clean something up.

Be as specific as you can.

Instead of asking your child to clean up her room, tell her exactly what you’d like her to do. For example, say, “Let’s put the pegs in the bucket and the blocks in the box.” Make it as simple as possible for your child to follow your instructions.

Provide adequate cleanup supplies.

Don’t expect your child to know what to use to clean up her mess by herself. For example, give her the right cloth to wash off the table. Make sure to praise all her cleanup efforts after you’ve given her the tools of the trade.

Confine messy activities to a safe place.

Avoid potential catastrophes by letting your child play with messy materials (fingerpaints, clay, markers, crayons, and so on) in appropriate places. Don’t expect her to know not to destroy the living-room carpet when you’ve let her fingerpaint in there.

What to Do

Use Grandma’s Rule.

If your child refuses to clean up a mess she’s made, make her fun dependent on doing the job you’ve requested. For example, say, “Yes, I know you don’t want to pick up your blocks. But when you’ve picked them up, then you may go outside to play.” Remember that a child one year old or older can help clean up in small ways. She needs to try her best at whatever level she can, slowly building up to more difficult tasks.

Work together.

Sometimes the cleanup job is too big for a young child’s muscles or hands. Join in the work to encourage sharing and cooperation, two lessons you want your child to learn as a preschooler. Seeing Mom or Dad clean up makes the activity that much more inviting.

Play Beat the-Clock,

When your child is trying to beat the timer, picking up toys is a fun game instead of an arduous task. Join in the fun by saying, “When you’ve picked up the toys before the timer rings, you can take out another toy.” When your child is successful at beating the clock, praise her accomplishment and follow through on your promise.

Praise your child’s cleanup effort.

Encourage your child to clean up after herself by using a powerful motivator – praise! Comment on the great job she’s doing putting away her crayons, for example. Say, “I’m really glad you put that red crayon in the basket. Thanks for helping clean up your room.”

What Not to Do

Don’t expect perfection

Your child hasn’t had much time to practice cleaning up after herself, so don’t expect her job to be perfect. The fact that she’s trying means she’s learning how to do it. She’ll improve over time.

Don’t punish messiness.

Your child cannot yet understand the value of neatness and doesn’t have the physical maturity to stay tidy, so punishing her for being messy will not teach her the cleanup skills she needs to learn.

Don’t expect preschoolers to dress themselves for a mess,

Your child doesn’t understand the value of nice clothing, so provide her with old clothes (and put them on inside out, if you want) before allowing her to play with messy materials. Even if your child protests your doing something besides playing with him or fusses when you occasionally leave him with a babysitter.

Start separations slowly.

If your child demands too much of your time from age one and up, play Beat-the-Clock. Give him five minutes of your time and five minutes to play by himself. Keep increasing the play-by-himself time for each five minutes of time spent with you, until he can play by himself for one hour.

Children's Messiness

What Not to Do

Don’t get upset when your child clings.

Tell yourself your child prefers your company to anything in the whole world.

Don’t punish your child for clinging.

Instead, follow the steps outlined above to teach him how to separate.

Don’t give mixed messages.

Don’t tell your child to go away while you’re holding, patting, or stroking him. This will confuse him about whether to stay or go.

Don’t make sickness a convenient way to get special attention.

Don’t make being sick more fun than being well by letting your sick child do things that are normally unacceptable. Sickness should be dealt with in a matter-of-fact way with few changes in routine.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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