I am talking about messes that serve a creative function. Or messes that teach children about responsibility. I let my daughter get messy and I don't freak out when she makes an unintended mess.
Since summertime has come early this year, I decided to let her to her most favorite thing. Paint the concrete patio outside. I simply pour globs of red, washable paint all over the place and then give her a paintbrush.
Oh, and she does this in her undies. She is a little free-spirit.
I understand for a lot of parents, that it can be difficult to let your hair down after a long workday (or maybe you don't work) and grant your kids artistic freedom. Trust me. I had a hard time doing this. I grew up with strict "no-mess" rules and in the beginning of my daughter's childhood, I enforced those rules.
Until I saw that it hampered her spirit. It hampered her ability to learn from those messes. Most of all, it was stressful.
And I am so glad that I did because it changed our dynamic. I started the paint the outdoors ritual. She loves this. She gets to make art on the patio and on her body without repercussions. So how do I do this:
1. Give her the paint and the brush.
2. Let her do her thing until she is done.
3. Give her the hose to clean it up or if she wants to keep it on the concrete, she can until it rains...or she wants to paint again.
By allowing her to make, create, and then be responsible for the clean up, not only does she get to be artistic, but she learns about cleaning. About being organized in a state of toddler chaos.
Moreover, letting kids make messes lets them tune into their senses. Give a kid a patch of dirt and a shovel. Watch what happens. They sit in the dirt. They dig. They taste. They feel. They smell. And most of all, they are learning to work with their environment. Motor skills, people!
And I must say that letting toddlers get messy without you freaking out on them prevents your children from growing up in fear of doing something wrong. It is so much better to let a child do something and then learn from the actions, than prevent the activity all together or yell at them for what they've done.
I have more on this and will draft up another post on the psychology behind this.