I am encouraging the mess, not just the clean-ups.
Here are some tips for dealing with messy kids, from a veteran momma with a stained kitchen table and a closet full of glue.
Disclaimer: This is not a how-to guide for keeping your house clean with kids. It’s not a post about chore charts or mess-free crafts. This is full-on encouragement to let your kids get worst-nightmare messy sometimes… yes, even in the house!
Before you clutch your Lysol wipes and hate-read the rest of this, hear me out.
Kids are natural mess makers. They are sensory seekers who learn by exploring. Making messes is good for them- let your kids get messy! It’s great for sensory input, encourages creativity, fosters exploration, and provides an activity without tight boundaries and structure. Schedules and rules are needed. We should have expectations that they clean up after themselves, but they also need time to create without endless rules and explore without anxious, hovering reminders to stay clean.
I grew up on an apple orchard. We spent our time rolling down hills, puddle stomping, climbing trees, painting our faces with dandelions, and making dirt castles. We built eyesore forts and rafts that didn’t float.
The best experiences were simple days filled with dirt and sweat, paint, and playdough. I make space for that in my home, too.
My kids love making slime, painting, constructing cardboard castles, baking, cake decorating, and playing in sensory bins or water. Outside, they love snow, sand, dirt, and stray sticks. I am dealing with messy kids often.
Do they drag in sand and grass and leave puddles on the floor? Yeah, on the productive days. Do I have to mop and sweep more than usual? Also, yes. Do I sometimes hate myself and my questionable parenting choices? At least once a day.
These are all things that make the neat freak in me twitch, but they’re also things that make my kids feel happy, excited and fulfilled. It gives them permission and opportunities to be expansively creative and wild. Let your kids get messy!
We have closets full of supplies. They often come out with no pre-planning, and I have to calm the urge to yell, “PUT THIS AWAY! NOT NOW!!”
I’m rarely in the mood for messes. I don’t love cleaning them up. Dealing with messy kids can be stressful. Nevertheless, slime often gets on clothes. Paint ends up on walls and floors.
I’ve learned how to get slime out of anything (it’s EASY! I promise!). Acrylic paint comes off hard surfaces with wipes. You can use a plastic tablecloth, Dexter your kitchen, or do as I have and give up altogether. My table looks like it came from an unsupervised K-4 art room.
Allowing these messes to happen requires me to stay present and engage with my kids, rather than playing the mess referee. I commit to cleaning at the end unless it’s a big or time-sensitive spill. I also have a rule that if we make a mess together, we all clean it together. I set a timer on the stove, and we play beat the clock, or if it’s been a rough day, I get a little short and demand it gets done before we move on to the next thing. Either way, we make messes, and we clean them. Life skills, my friends.
Encourage some carefree exploration in your lives. Dealing with messy kids might go against your nature, but the memories are worth the mess.