When was the last time you made a mud pie? Played in the gutter after a rainstorm? Got your hands really sticky with finger paint?
As adults, many of us hate messes. We try not to make them, and we can get irritated with our children when they do. Messes are no fun for us, they make us anxious. All we can see is the cleanup that is going to be involved. What we forget is the value of making a mess.
The Sensory Value
For children with impaired sensory processing, getting in and getting extreme with the mess has great value. It feeds the child’s need for sensory stimulation, and with impaired processing nothing less than all out just doesn’t do any good.
It is important to let our children explore different sensory experiences, some very messy. If you do not create the experience for them, they will seek out the sensory input themselves, often with unwanted consequences.
On the flip side, some of our children HATE messy things. You can use messy play therapy to help them grow and learn to handle it when things are out of their control.
- Set up a play time at the table with a plastic drop cloth, in the tub, or outside. Then let the mess start: give them a tub of rice and a tray to pour it onto. Shaving cream makes for a great sensory experience–outside is probably the best place for this. Cornstarch and water mixed together, homemade play dough, and painting with pudding are all great sensory experiences.
- Put your child in clothes you don’t mind them dirtying and get ready for the cleanup–a trip straight to the bath and clothes directly into the washer.
Hints: What does your child gravitate to when they get into mischief? Find something with a similar sensory feel and give them a place to get that need met. If they explore their yogurt, maybe pudding painting would fill that gap. If they are continually getting in trouble for pouring water, think about a play table outside with water, or a fun bath with extra towels down for catching splashes.
The Intellectual Value
Children love a challenge. Problem solving skills need to be developed, and you can help. Have you noticed that your child does things the hard way? You try to correct your child so things will be easier, but maybe you should just allow them to work through the challenges.
You might even try creating some challenges for them. Can they do their homework with their book upside down? Can they practice spelling words while standing on their head? Make their school work fun and challenging, it will stick with them.
- Give your child real world challenges. When you go to Whole Foods or Target in Arlington, tell them what your grocery budget is. Have them help you find the groceries, and help you keep track of how much of the budget has been spent. This will engage them in the activity instead of boring them. They will also start to understand why they are not allowed to put whatever they want into your cart!
The Emotional Value
Do you remember when you were a child? Running the neighborhood with your friends was fun, but there was conflict. Maybe you didn’t agree on which video game to play or whether to roller blade or ride bikes. There was plenty of emotional mess to go around, and you and your friends learned from fighting and working it out.
As parents, we don’t want our children to experience any pain or discomfort. It can be too easy for us to step in and fix everything ourselves, robbing our children of the lesson of cleaning up an emotional mess. Even in the home between our children, we can be too fast to step in and resolve the issues.
We can bring focus and structure to the process by letting them know they need to work out their conflict, but hijacking the argument and resolving it ourselves actually harms them in the long run. Obviously, if the conflict cannot be resolved in a fair amount of time, step in, but give your children a chance first. Don’t let your aversion to conflict keep you from allowing your child to stretch their emotional wings.
To learn more about parenting children with sensory issues:
Texas Special Kids