mess child development and behavior

When is a mess too much? It’s a common practice for some parents or teachers to teach children to put something away before they take something new out to play. But, when is a mess really too much?

It is an awesome practice to teach children responsibility, to take care of cleaning up after themselves, and be aware of contributing to the community that they are a part of. But there is also a line where obsessive cleaning up limits creativity. For example, in our home cleaning up happens regularly. My 6 year old son has a list of house jobs like putting his dishes in the sink, his laundry in the laundry basket, and taking care of the messes he does make.

However, I do allow him to create in the playroom and keep toys out for up to a week. I see that his play expands and his creative process expands with it as I allow him to use his toys to create the world that he’s envisioning and imagining in his mind. If I say put away the train tracks before you take out the blocks, or put away your little people before you take out the animals, or put the cars away before you take up the trains, he will not have an opportunity to create a whole world that is of his own making.

It is also a developmental stage to be able to master this kind of thinking. When we interrupt children in their creative process then we don’t allow them to develop skills of innovation and creativity that may shape their future. We teach them to be,” thinkers in the box” to coin a popular expression.

It still is a good question, “When is a mess too much?” Sometimes the mess can get to be too much even if it’s wonderfully creative. There is a time to clean up! You will know because the space becomes too cluttered that the creativity has stopped. You will notice because your children will not be playing in it because it will be difficult for them to interact in a space that is not organized in a way that facilitates their play. I recommend toy bins that do categorize toys and to keep them out, circulate them so children have opportunities for all different kinds of play.

Helping you child organize cleaning up is important. If the room is too messy it is important that young children get jobs broken down for them. For example, “ Let’s put away the blocks first, I’ll help with the train.” In that case the child is still learning to take responsibility but getting help in a space that may have become too disorganized and messy. The clean up song is a good introduction for a little toddler so they can associate the action of the song with the action of putting away, which also brings in the fun element.

Truth be told, sometimes a mess is too much. However most the time the making of what looks like a mess to parents is allowing for the creative process and innovation in thinking that you do not want to sacrifice.

You may find that you actually are less stressed out as a parent when you can let go and let a little mess be made!

Image Credit: Emma Whitney Photography

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Andrea Giammattei has a Master of Science in Special Education from Fordham University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Oneonta State University. She is a seasoned learning specialist, educational therapist, and counselor with over 25 years experience. She has worked in public and private schools, as well as in private practice. Andrea has a diverse interdisciplinary background, experience leading teams, and many years of experience working closely with students and parents in partnership. In private practice she performs educational assessments and designs individualized curriculum for students with varied learning differences including ADHD, dyslexia, Math disabilities, visual and language based challenges, sensory challenges and spectrum disorders. Andrea is passionate and clear that students need to be taught skills for emotional intelligence as well as cognitive intelligence, and that these skills are easily integrated. She believes the kids greatly desire to work hard and be successful. Students are creative and inspired to be their best in the right environment, and will expand to their unique potential when given the chance and with people who believe in them. As an innovative educational leader, teacher and counselor, Andrea strives to inspire motivating learning environments full of curiosity, the courage to take risks, and development of positive self-esteem. She believes that the relationship between a teacher and her students needs to be one of trust partnership and creativity. Andrea is the owner of Open Minds Learning. You can reach Andrea at 808 280 0535 or at andreagia2014@gmail.com . She is currently residing in NY City.

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