Preschoolers love to make messes. Just ask Circle of Moms member Jessica E., who describes a day in the life of her 3-year-old daughter this way: "She pulls my makeup down and smears it. She opens up bottles of shampoo and squirts them empty. She empties toothpaste on the walls, colors everywhere, and throws food everywhere (like a box of crackers or grapes)." Help, she begs. "I have tried everything. I just don't know what to do about all the messes and how to get her to stop."
Whether it's unrolling toilet paper, scattering toys throughout the house, or coloring on the walls, all this mess-making is a sign that your preschooler is doing her job: exploring the world. But even though her habit is developmentally appropriate, it can be hard to live with! Here, to the rescue, are three tips from Circle of Moms members on controlling the chaos, plus advice on how to deal with your little mess-maker's behavior in restaurants.
1. Slow Down the Chaos With Distractions
Several Circle of Moms members report that a good way to keep total chaos at bay is to redirect your preschooler towards a different activity when he starts to make a mess. Emma A. finds that this is easier for her than getting her son to clean up after himself: "My son doesn't spill, he dismantles stuff. I put it down to curiosity. I used to make him pick up after himself. But now I suggest [getting] your preschooler busy doing something else. It won't solve much, but will slow down on the chaos."
2. Teach Your Child to Clean Up
Calling on preschoolers to put their toys away or clean can help with the damage control. As Kaitlin M. shares, "My 3-year-old only dumps out her toys and dumps out her Cheerios, but I make her clean up her messes when she makes them. If you're consistent with it she will learn that if she makes a mess then she has to clean it and won't make as many messes. It will take some time, just warning you. Also, I wouldn't yell at her. It won't help any and might make things worse . . . trust me. Try more of a stern talk and show that you are not angry. Just let her know that you are serious and that the messes she makes are not good."
If expecting a 3 year old to clean up his own mess seems too much, many Circle of Moms suggest rolling up your own sleeves to show your child how to help you with the clean up, to set a good example. A Circle of Moms member named Jennifer has her son help her clean up his toys, and reports that, "I have to keep on him or else he gets easily distracted, and I often use things to motivate him — not really 'rewards,' more like, if they want to eat they have to clean up first." Minique A. flat out uses rewards: "When someone does pick up their toy, give them a treat — a little piece of candy [or] something — to show them they did a good job."
Many Circle of Moms members find that the "Clean-up Song," taught in preschools, also works at home. "What has worked for [my kids]," shares Sandra C., "is singing ‘Clean up. Clean up. Everybody come along. Clean up. Clean up. Everybody does their job.' Even my 18-month-old helps when we sing the song."
3. Create a Zone Where Messes Are OK
Many Circle of Moms members find that the most practical way to limit the messes is to designate one or more places for them. Although playrooms are popular, the consensus is that the toys still tend to migrate out from them. As Erin B. shares of her 2 year old, "She constantly brings toys in the living room and leaves them all over the house. I do not think I have a room in the house that does not have at least one of her toys in it. . . . I have tried everything from songs to games to telling her, straight up, no toys out of your playroom."
The answer seems to be to cordon off small play spaces in the rooms where your family spends time together, such as the living room, the family room, or kitchen, and then to set up baskets, shelves, or other storage for the toys and gear that you can accept in those spaces. As a Circle of Moms member who goes by "Good Day!" explains it, the key to this approach is to teach your child that there's a special place for everything: "In the living room [my daughter] has a basket of toys and a basket of books. She has a small table in our kitchen. There is a basket of paper and crayons on top. That's it. She knows where everything goes."
How to Deal With Messes in Restaurants
Even if you have the mess-making under a degree of control at home, restaurants present a special challenge. Few of us want to become known to the waitstaff as the family that always leaves a disgusting mess behind. Jessica W., whose husband gets upset by the chaos their three small children always create in restaurants, explains the conundrum: "You can imagine the mess! . . . Usually I will try and clean the big things, [but] of course the floor will always still need a good sweeping."
Short of staying away from restaurants while your kids are going through their messy years, Megan K.'s approach probably comes closest to saving everyone a lot of grief: when her kids were in the messy stage, she "cleaned up" their restaurant messes by padding the tip: "I always just left it but added an additional five percent to the tip."
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.