I look after my little niece every Thursday.  So yesterday morning, I sat the girls down at the dining table with a bowl of porridge each.  (What was I thinking?)  Then Birdy decided that her porridge-covered spoon was actually a microphone and she started singing into it.  So naturally her cousin copied her.  I suppose at this point I could have intervened, but they were having fun so I let it go.  Anyway, the screeching got louder and louder, their voices got higher and higher and the porridge ended up distributed fairly evenly between the floor, the table and their hair, so that by the end of breakfast my kitchen looked like a rock star’s hotel room.

Have you ever noticed how nearly everything that little kids get really excited about involves some kind of mess?  Painting?  Mess.  Cooking?  Mess.  Playdough?  Mess.  Jumping in puddles after the rain?  Mess.  And as soon as you try to stop it being messy, it just isn’t half as much fun anymore.  Do you know I hardly ever did any painting with Birdy for the last two years because I was so afraid of the mess?  It’s only now that we’ve conquered toilet training that the idea of cleaning up a bit of paint doesn’t seem so bad.

I always try to get the girls involved in cleaning up, even if its counterproductive at times, in the hope that it might pay dividends in the long-term.  I also try to emphasise how nice it is to have things clean and tidy again, in the hope that they might start to appreciate tidiness.  But my main strategy is to try to limit messy activities to just one area of the house.  So any kind of activity involving food, water, play-dough, paint or any other suspect substance has to take place in the kitchen area on the lino.  That way Birdy can still have fun with her friends but it doesn’t have to take over the whole house.  Even so, it’s a constant battle, and I find I’m always balancing the desire to let the girls have fun, with the need to protect my sanity.  After all, one of the beautiful things about childhood is their ability to just enjoy the moment and let the adults worry about the consequences.

Do you have trouble keeping up with the mess your kids make or do you take a zero-tolerance approach?  What strategies have you used to keep mess under control, or have you given up completely?  What do you do when you’ve got visitors arriving in half an hour and your child asks to do cooking, painting, or lego?  Have you taught your kids to clean up after themselves?

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