I make my kids straighten up a room before they leave. It’s what keeps the house mostly tidy and my sanity level at bay. I also allow them to get down ‘n dirty in craft paint and sparkles during a craft, as long as they clean it up at the end (with my assistance of course). My older kids take initiative to bake, flying flour and all, as long as the disaster is gone during baking. They also ride scooters in the house and their rollerblades indoors during the winter.
Even though I am a Type A neat freak, I have grown comfortable with a mess that will be cleaned up by mostly responsible munchkins, whether they like it or not.
“Part of play is to put away,” I always remind them.
As much as I am a believer in the stress-minimizing job of maintaining an orderly home, I enjoy teaching the kids how to be responsible, while still expressing themselves—knee-deep in creativity. We do not live in a glass house.
Our kids are free to play, rough and tumble, and BE kids. Here’s a go-by list of non-glass house rules to help you find the right balance between messy madness and party play.
DO put out a messy craft like paint, sparkles, play-doh, and/or water play but manage your expectations.
• Use trays to minimize spill-age. A single tray and some sweeping are much easier to maintain than a room full of flying fairy dust.
• Aprons help to save some areas of your kids’ clothes—but let’s face it, most of them don’t cover the sleeves or shorts. Instead, have a “garbage outfit” in your craft drawer to cover their fine threads.
• Look away, my friend! If the mess unnerves you, get used to it. Count, sing, leave the room (not very recommended with littles), or keep emergency chocolate close by (totally kidding, sort of). Just remember that the house and your kids are washable. No mess is too big to handle, especially when they make a deal to clean up at the end.
• Wipes and damp “garbarge” towels are my hero. Throughout any meal, craft, or activity, these little gems erase any oops.
DON’T panic or shout during the activity about the mess. The experience, bonding, and fun are worth everything. Don’t soil on the moment with a grouch-monster attitude. Help guide the activity but do not take over, even if it’s not right or even backwards. This is the time to let their creativity run loose and for your kiddos to realize their personalities and imagination.
DO let them “get their energy out.” Find a safe enough area in your house for them to glide via any small item with wheels. Same goes with playing chase and throwing a soft ball. Find a few places, like a hallway, bedroom, den, or a non-fragile area. Some of the best moments our family used to have at our previous house was trying to make progressively challenging baskets (the basket being a play pen, of course) from different areas of the house. Remember to dive in and play too!
DON’T scream or micro-manage the way your parents may have growing up. Who said you shouldn’t throw balls in the house? Just make it safe and fun. Once you enable a safe way to release pent up energy in a fun, non-freak out manner, you will start to notice less sibling issues and a ton of imaginative games your brood comes up with for their amusement.
DO pick your battles. If you’re in a rush to leave the house or your kids are really proud of a Leg, o tower, pillow design, play-mobile setup, or anything of the like, just leave it! If your child is beyond exhausted and just can’t manage to clean up her room after a pretend art sale, book fair, or fashion show with half of the closet, leave it for the next day. Who cares if it sits for a day! Pick your battles—a mess is always tidy-able. The experience is worth more than anything.
DON’T let your blood boil if your child flat out refuses to clean his/her room before bedtime. Avoid an epic tirade because the cleaning isn’t going well or as planned. Kids are kids, nothing usually goes as planned. Make clean-up an enjoyable part of playtime with a counting contest to finish, putting on their favorite music and singing/dancing during clean-up, and/or propose an exciting next activity as an incentive to get the job done.
The less of a glass house you live in, the more confident, free, calm, and creative your children will become.