If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to hose off your kid’s muddy clothes, save the sad remains of a shredded curtain, rescue a princess (i.e. your poor, taped-up cat) from a cardboard castle, or paint over your child’s magic marker “wall art”, it might take a few deep breaths (or something stronger) to let go of your frustration. Here’s a little something to help you see your child’s “experiments” in a more positive light.
Did you ever wonder why mud baths and mud masks have such a soothing effect on us grown-ups? The bacteria Mycobacterium Vaccae, which occurs naturally in dirt, boosts your immune system and increases serotonin levels. So whether you’re gardening or sitting in a mud tub, or your kid is playing in puddles, it physically helps you both feel happy and more relaxed. Plus, early exposure to a wide variety of bacteria and germs is linked to a lower risk of allergies and asthma.
The human race is a couple of hundred thousand years old. The time we have lived in houses is very short in comparison to our millennia spent in nature, dirt and caves. The time we have lived in CLEAN houses is even shorter! Yet our brains still function very similarly to those of our ancient ancestors. So maybe we’re just instinctively drawn to the basic elements of nature. Either way, let your kid make mud cakes and kiss the dog – they’ll be fine. And maybe they’ll even have fun washing their clothes in the tub later and save you the trouble.
Sticks and stones
Anyone who has ever gone for a walk in nature with a pre-schooler has returned with bags and pockets full of seashells, sticks, rocks, leaves, and – if you’re lucky – snails and insects. It may not seem like a valuable or aesthetically pleasing activity. But when your child shows an interest in simple things like these, it’s because it stimulates their imagination and all of their senses, and helps them build a vocabulary for colours, shapes, sizes, smells, sounds, and the world around them in general. They can learn to count their treasures, organise and sort them into categories, or be creative and turn them into something completely different. Kids can swap and learn the value of sharing their collections with friends too. If they offer you one of their findings, it’s a precious gift a way for them to express their love for you. So even if a stick man doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of your interior décor, your kid will feel loved and valued if you show them you share their enthusiasm. You can create a display shelf, frame, or wall for their inventions and creations and take down older things as new ones go up.
When your kid has cut the legs off your favourite pants to make an agility tunnel for your pet rabbit or “borrowed” your shirts or towels to make a tent, it’s not necessarily because they want to behave badly or act out against you. Kids are creative and curious by nature and can easily get carried away when they see something that inspires them to invent new things or make things pretty.
Another form of “destructive” play is about building or stacking things, only to knock them down (with immense satisfaction) and start over. Or in reverse order – breaking your DVD player because they want to see what it looks like inside. See it as your child’s first science, engineering, and physics lesson in one - hands-on testing of cause and effect and laws of nature. It helps your child figure out how things work, what doesn’t, and then try to find out how to improve it.
Find out what materials inspire your child the most and make a box or safe space with things they know they’re allowed to “upcycle”. Not all of it will be pretty but that’s not important. Just believe in the process. These creative experiences will help them trust their ability to carry out their ideas in the “real” world as they grow up.
Role-playing good guys vs. bad guys
Don’t be alarmed if your child acts like a bit of a fool while role-playing with friends. Playing the bad guy or girl with friends is your child’s way of testing social and cultural norms, actions and reactions, and their own identity and place in the world, in a consequence-free environment. It’s just “pretend” play, so there are no repercussions or punishment among friends. It’s just part of their “code”. As soon as the play is over, they’re back to normal again.
So embrace the chaos. Sometimes it’s our kids who seem to have it all figured out with their infallible logic, and we grown-ups have just forgotten what it’s all about. Maybe you’ll rediscover the magic of your world when you see it through the eyes of your weird, funny, muddy child.