Every day goes pretty much the same around my house. At some point, my three-year-old son finds a way to make a huge mess dumping toys everywhere and then we argue and bicker and fight over picking them up.
Sometimes it’s crayons or puzzle pieces. Other times, cars or figurines. But about 90% of the time, it is the dreaded cascade of two giant boxes of Lego Duplo blocks unceremoniously dumped smack dab in the middle of the living room floor.
Cue more bickering and moaning and badgering. “At least build something with them this time instead of just making a huge mess!” “Why?! I told you not to do that!” “Not AGAIN!” Every day. Same thing.
Today I was completely fed up with the whole ordeal as my son again refused to move his blocks out of the walkway and I was intent on shoving the endlessly annoying blocks out of my way. And of course, he protested as only a three-year-old can…dramatically and very, very loudly.
I’d had it. Too stressed and too tired to yell over plastic playthings, I left the room to clear my head, leaving the mess behind.
As I sat in the kitchen, I heard something magical take place in the living room.
A tiny voice started telling a very detailed story, his saga accented by the tiny jangle of the dreaded blocks as he carefully orchestrated his tale. “Hop, hop, hop! I’m coming to save you!” “Oh no, a very spooky cave!” “Help me, I’m stuck!” “Squirt, squirt! Oh no, he’s a really really bad guy! I’ll get him!”
I listened for a while as a smile slowly replaced my scowl, then curiosity got the best of me and I rejoined my son, this time getting down on his level and exploring the little world he had created. Asking questions about his precious creation and listening to his very careful explanations.
Suddenly, in that moment, it all made sense. Perhaps it wasn’t ‘just another huge mess’. Maybe it really was something important.
All I had to do was change my perspective before I could truly understand what he saw. Now, the crash of a hundred blocks spilling across the floor won’t herald the rolling of eyes and the start of more fighting. It will mark the beginning of another epic saga, a child hero saving the day.
This story is written by Jennifer, a member of my Facebook group, The Stop Yelling Challenge.
I read her words one day as I was scrolling through my feed. I was inspired and within a few minutes, I had talked to her and got her permission to use her story in a blog post. Thanks, Jennifer!!
This story was a huge “Duh!” moment. A swift reminder of how important play is to children.
How many times have you felt like Jennifer? How many times have you mumbled under your breath about your child’s mess? How many times have you yelled because of the toys strewn across your house?
Just today, I had to stop myself from kicking my son’s blocks across the room because they were in my way. Mid-kick, I remembered that those blocks aren’t just blocks, but a city filled with cars, people, and even a shipping dock with Duplo freight ships waiting on a big shipment. It was more than just a bunch of random blocks. It was a whole world that my son made.
I thought back on Jennifer’s story and remembered one word. Respect.
As mothers, how do we respect our children’s play while keeping sane with the mess?
Respecting Their Play
Play is the work of childhood” -Fred Rogers
Play is not just about having fun, it’s how children learn about concepts, relationships, and reasoning. It’s how they figure out physics, social interactions, emotions, counting, colors, and letters.
Their play is important to them. It might look like a mess to us, but to them, it’s everything.
So try to refrain from:
- picking up their play scenes without asking first.
- interrupting their play and demanding that they pick up.
- discounting their play and tell them it’s just a mess.
Trust me, I know that you don’t want a huge mess in the house and you want to teach your children to take care of their things. Well, you can, and you can do it in respectful ways.
Let Them Choose When to Clean Up (within reason)
Give them the options to clean it up now, or to do it at a set time given by you.
Let’s go back to my son’s blocks this morning. My son had spent all morning before school working on his city. He begged me not to let his brother tear it down while he gone. I had errands to run most of the day and I was confident that I could keep his brother from destroying his city, so I said he could keep them up until bedtime tonight. I’d make sure his brother didn’t mess with it.
Yes, those blocks were out all day long, but he wasn’t done playing yet. So I have him a reasonable amount of time to finish and he knows that it will be put away tonight.
Now, if his brother was going to be home all day, I would have asked him to clean up and told him I’d help him build it again after school.
Give Them Their Own Space
Nothing makes me explode faster than when I step on a LEGO in my kitchen or if there are toys all over the house.
My kids have an area, that’s separated from the busy places in our house, where they can build. We ask them to keep their toys there so that they don’t interfere with the rest of the family’s space.
We have playdough, rainbow rice, Hotwheels, and kinetic sand upstairs they can play with at any time, but the rest stays downstairs. They can choose to go downstairs and play, or play with the toys we have upstairs.
Prepare Them For Cleanup
My boys know that the 7pm timer goes off and it’s time for pajamas and clean up. We also give them plenty of warnings that it will soon be time to be done. We prepare them so they can wrap up their play and be ready when it’s time.
When you don’t give them that time, it’s understandable that they might throw a tantrum because we’re interrupting their work. No one likes to be interrupted when they’re focusing on something.
Like Jennifer noticed in her story, most of the time there’s a lot more to a child’s play, and when you see it, you respect it.
In those moments when you want to pick up the LEGOs and hurl them across the room, remember that those little pieces of plastic are more than just a mess. They are your child’s creation, a little piece of their world. Respect it.
Respect their things, just like you expect them to respect your things.
This is beautiful! I feel like this can be applied in so many situations, too. Because sometimes, just getting down on your child’s level can open your eyes in ways that 100 parenting books never could! Thank you for this! I think we should all see the beauty in the mess. 🙂
Yes! So very, very true!
This is such a wonderful story. It can be tricky to see into the minds of children sometimes, but it’s amazing what’s going on in there. I’ll have to always keep this story in the back of my head the next time my toddler decides to make a mess (which will probably be once he wakes up from his nap!).
Thanks Tricia! I keep it in the back of my mind too…it’s been really helpful.
Sheila @ BrainPowerBoy
Nice! Simply taking the time to see things from a child’s perspective is something a lot of people don’t do. How many times do adults think children are being selfish or lazy (leaving their toys on the floor- not wanting to pick them up) by wanting something that we adults simply don’t understand.
Ask why they need to leave the toys out (or any other question about something that is bothering you). There is almost always a good reason – the answers will likely surprise you.
Great article – sharing!
There's Just One Mommy
What a beautiful story to share, and a great reminder to us all. It definitely is all about perspective. Sometimes you have to stop and think about just what’s going on in their world.
Yes, this is so true! I’ve loved watching my boys create their amazing worlds. The worlds do, however, become more dangerous as they graduate from Duplo to the ridiculously small ones 🙂
Thank you for shared. I have 2 boys making the house mess all the times. Just feel embarrassed when neighbors come for visiting..
Yes, I see the world my granddaughter has created but it Still does not get the mess Picked up.
Yes, that’s true.
This happened to me way back, when I asked him to clear it up because it is just a mess, my son explained to me what is going on his “lego world” and it is truly amazing how creative their minds can be. This is same with crazy drawings 🙂 From then on, I gave him space in the living room where his lego is at reach even when he is watching tv. I’d rather have lego all around the house than gadgets 😉
I love this new perspective on looking at what we often consider a mess. I’m actually ok most of the time when my own 3 year old dumps out toys left and right, but the only bit that doesn’t really work practically, is sometimes life is unpredictable and you need to leave the house suddenly for whatever reason and it’s not always possible to let a child decide when they are going to tidy up their toys. Also, we’re in the midst of struggling to teach our daughters to clean up one thing before starting another.
Overall, the above is great in an ideal world where you’ve got lots of time and space this is really great advice. Unfortunately most homes in the UK are quite compact compared to US ones (I’m an expat American so I know 🙂 ) and also we have a cat that likes to pee in any container left open, so you can see how that might make me apprehensive to leave certain items out.
I do really like the idea of setting a timer. I’ve already used the intermittent warnings counting up to leaving somewhere, tidying up or bedtime, but never thought about setting a timer to let the girls know their time is up. Great idea! Thanks for the new perspective! 🙂
Pausing in those moments of being overwhelmed and frustrated with the mess is so hard…but so worth it, and definitely what is needed to step into their world for a minute! I am a therapist with play therapy training as well and love how you emphasize the power of play in such a simple and straightforward way!
This is so true! Glad I came across this today. Needed to hear it as a mother.
I really enjoyed this article. My son will be two soon, and I just found legos strewn around the backyard corner with sand and dirt in them. I’m not sure why the babysitter or my husband who both knew the mess was there thought it was fine to leave it there. I just picked them all up and threw them away in a trashbin they both use outside so they will notice that toys that are not cared for and filthy get tossed. lol. Teaching adults! My son doesn’t care either way about the legos.