Parenting: Why Do Kids Make Messes?


Guest blogger Michelle Kemper Brownlow: Ever have one of those days where your child's choices of entertainment surpass even Dennis the Menace's ideas? Me too. I often wonder where that eye is that my mom claimed was on the back of her head every time I got in trouble for something I KNEW she didn't see me doing. There are days that I throw my hands up and declare that my mother's intuition was sucked out of my brain by aliens as I slept. How many times have you looked at your baby-powder-covered toddler and yelled, "WHY?!"

It wasn't until I started researching my son's sensory issues that I could draw simple connections between his seemingly strange, impulsive behaviors and what he was getting out of them. He wasn't doing it to drive me crazy. He was learning from the process, and if I could corral that inquisitive nature and give him opportunities to use his hands and senses in a "controlled" manner, we would both be much happier. 

Case in point: Last week, there was a day when my 5-year-old seemed to be pushing my buttons -- all the wrong ones! Not only did he squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink and then try to "clean it up" by hiding it in his sister's hand towel, he also rubbed my eldest son's deodorant all over the upstairs hallway wall and drained every ounce of my daughter's Aeropostale perfume onto his shirt. 

So I did what my mom would call rewarding that behavior with a like behavior: I gave him Scotch tape, scissors and a Ziploc bag filled with paint. My baby's hands were craving the muscular input that squeezing and rubbing accomplished; he'd just chosen the wrong things to squeeze and rub. We used the Scotch tape to make a hopscotch board on the kitchen floor. He spent a lot of time rubbing the tape to get it to stick. (This works just as well on a carpet, and you could get fancy and buy colored tape or blue painters tape.) We used a crumbled piece of scrap paper as our throwing rock. 

Next, I squirted three or four colors of paint into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, then placed that bag inside a second bag. (Make sure both bags are laying flat, and squeeze out all the air before sealing each.) Your child can rub the colors all around, making a great design with no mess at all. It's the clean version of finger painting. Some children would love to finger paint, but from a sensory standpoint, they don't "do" messes. This is a great way to offer them the same experience. 

Use your imagination the next time your child makes a mess. How can you recreate that experience in a more controlled way? You might surprise yourself ... and your child!


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