If you’re the parent of a young child, then you know that raising a toddler can be a messy business — literally. Toddlers learn through interacting with their environment and, in fact, studies show that messier toddlers are better at learning.
So, if messiest is best, how is an adult who needs some sense of order and cleanliness supposed to cope?
Read on for our list of top tips, products, and suggestions.
Come to the table prepared. Nothing creates quite as much mess as a toddler at mealtime. And while allowing your toddler to self-feed may stress your inner neat freak to the limit, experts suggest that children who are given autonomy at mealtime are less likely to overeat — an important fact if you’re concerned about childhood obesity — and are more likely to try different foods. Plus, permitting your child to self-serve and self-feed also gives her the opportunity to practice the fine motor skills involved in handling serving spoons and utensils.
Pick your battles wisely. Give your child a selection of healthy foods from which to choose. And don’t get worked up if he passes on the broccoli for what seems like the umpteenth time. Studies show that a child may need to be exposed to a food up to 12-15 times before he is willing to try it. If you’re looking for ways to encourage healthy eating, consider Today I Ate a Rainbow — an interactive nutritional game made up of a colorful rainbow chart and brightly colored magnets that allow children to easily track the fruits and vegetables they eat throughout the day. It is a great way to motivate your child to eat a diverse and healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables.
Use a booster seat that allows your child to be pulled directly up to the table and to fully partake in family-style meals. The Go Anywhere booster seat easily attaches to the chairs that you already have in your home. This booster has a five-point harness, is made from easy to wipe-clean material, and is portable so that you can bring it with you when you eat out of the house. It is a a great way to include your child in the social aspects of family meals from an early age and eliminates the need for a large and bulky highchair.
Don’t let stains, spills, and dirty little shoes and feet ruin your chair upholstery, or your sanity. Protect your dining room and kitchen chairs by using the SmartSeat Chair Protector underneath your toddler’s booster seat. Our SmartSeats are waterproof and easily attach to most sizes and styles of chairs. They can be wiped down with a damp cloth or thrown into the washing machine for easy clean up. Additionally, you can continue to use your SmartSeat once your toddler has outgrown her booster. Our covers are perfect for mealtime, during arts and crafts, or anytime that you need a little extra protection from the messes that kids make.
Catch the mess with a bib. Bibs with catch-all pockets at the bottom, such as those by Jaq Jaq Bird help to minimize the amount of food that makes it to the floor, making clean up after meals easier.
Use kid-friendly utensils and dishes. The Baby Dipper Bowl has clear transparent sides, a spoon-shaped lower corner, and a non-slip base so that your toddler can more easily scoop food out of the bowl (without the bowl landing on the floor) so that more of the food makes it into her mouth. The brightly-colored matching utensils are chubby and contoured, making them easy for little hands to grasp. This feeding set encourage self-feeding, makes self-feeding easier, and help to minimize mess during mealtimes.
Put the straw in that can’t come out. Straw-lution straws can be used in most beverages and containers and, unlike traditional straws, they go in and stay in, thanks to a clever patent-pending design. These straws are perfect for drinks, shakes, and yogurts. They increase your child’s independence, both at the table and while on the go. They also keep your child from repeatedly removing and dropping his straw on the ground.
Give in to good, old-fashioned (and messy) play. Open-ended play, exploration, spontaneity, and discovery are all necessary parts of normal childhood development. In fact, as early childhood education experts say, “play is the work of childhood.” Messy play is particularly good “work” for your toddler because it stimulates the senses, aids in eye-hand coordination, and increases fine motor development. Create easy-to-clean spaces in which your child can experience tactile stimulation, such as at a sand or water table. If having sand in your home makes you break out in hives, consider these alternative and easier-to-clean sensory play ideas.
Give your child permission. One way that children learn and explore their world is by testing limits. While rules are obviously necessary for safety, make sure that you are create a place where you child can explore without being constantly told “no”. This means adequately childproofing your living area, being consistent about what is permissible, and sometimes giving in to the chaos. If you child loves to dump every toy at once, invest in some Swoop Bags. Not only do these attractive, drawstring bags make cleanup time a dream, they also double as a circular play mat when opened up and spread out on the floor.
Explore the outside world, together. If you can’t handle the mess in your home, then take your child outside. Toddlers love the explore the natural world and happily will accompany you to the park, the beach, or even your backyard. Bogg Bags make these outings easier. These bags are big enough to fill with whatever you may need for a full day outing. They are made from a durable material, have a soft shoulder strap for easy carrying, and are tip-proof and sturdy. Best of all, these bags can be hosed off when they get dirty, making clean up after a day out fast and easy.
Make clean up time a family affair. Toddlers love to be helpful. They also love a game. Make clean up time fun and less frustrating for both you by making a game out of it. Challenging your toddler “to clean up as much as he can in two minutes” or “to put the crayons away before his favorite song has come to the end”. Break down clean up chores into more manageable tasks for your child so that clean up doesn’t seem overwhelming. For example, “let’s clean up all the blocks together first; then we can find the stuffed animals and put them away.” And because toddlers mimic what you do, be mindful to model the behavior that you’d like see. If you gripe or complain when it’s time to clean up after dinner, then chances are that your child will moan and groan when it’s time to pick up his toys.
At potty time…
Don’t use a baby’s diaper on a growing toddler. Getting an active toddler to slow down (or lay down) or a diaper change is almost impossible. Antsy Pants are cloth diapers specifically designed for toddlers. They go on and off easily — either step through or with snap open sides — for easy changing that does not require your child to lie down. Their stretchy sides allow your child to quickly pull the pants down when she shows signs of potty-training readiness; they also provide “wetting feedback” by staying wet for a period of time before wicking the wetness away so that you’re child can more quickly identify when she has gone to the bathroom, a skill that has been associated with successful potty training. And best of all, because Antsy Pants are designed specifically for toddlers, these diapers contain toddler-sized toilet messes.
Use a sprayer splatter shield. If you choose to use cloth diapers for your toddler, make sure to use a shield with your cloth diaper sprayer so that your bathroom won’t be left a mess. Spray Pal is a diaper sprayer shield into which you clip the diaper. It keeps the spray contained and directs the mess into the toilet where it belongs.
Prepare for the occasional accident. Even if your toddler has successfully toilet trained, occasional accidents do happen. Carry a change of clothes when you’re out and about so that an accident doesn’t have to put an end to your outing. Wet bags, such as those by Jaq Jaq Bird, are waterproof inside and out, giving you the perfect place to stow soiled clothes until you get home. At home, consider a waterproof mattress cover such as the Oops! Sheet. Oops! Sheets are available in all sizes and will protect your child’s bed (or yours) from night time potty mishaps.
Photo by Travis Swan, courtesy of flickr.com