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How do I encourage my toddler to handle messy activities?

Toddlers often mimic what they see their parents doing, so if you are always tidying up after your toddler and pulling sad faces at mess while on the other hand praising your child when he cleans up after himself, they are more likely to model that behaviour.  During their first-year babies learn a lot by observing what they see in their immediate environment.  Because their sensory receptors in their hands and mouth are far more developed, they are unsurprisingly also driven by their tactile sense to explore the world around them. Anything and everything are pulled to the mouth to learn more about it, what it is and what it feels like. If babies and toddlers are provided an opportunity to explore, touch, feel and smell their food from an early age you are laying the foundation to support children learn more about the messy play. However, if your child is avoiding messy play, you will need you to be sensitive and take it slowly.  Let them explore gently the sensations that they currently find uncomfortable. You may need to model the behaviour you expect from your toddler and to show your toddler that messy, sticky things can be fun by playing with them yourself. Note when you are doing so, your toddler is a very clever being and is noticing each reaction you exhibit, the tone of your voice as you feel the texture, the encouragement you provide. This is vital as toddlers measure fears and pressure and threats by how you respond as their parent – it’s called ‘public referencing’.

When you are showing your toddler how harmless and fun messy play can be, be calm and demonstrate relatively measured involvements such as touching and mixing the spaghetti with a fork rather than finger. We need to teach our children being messy is OK. However, protecting over-sanitising, and cleaning teaches children that being messy is not okay. A child who has not ever been showed messy textures in nature can develop over-sensitive to tactile information. You can often see these children scream or yell or shriek if they get their hands or face messy or will refuse to walk in the sand or grass. Throughout toddlerhood, some children can discover more, and their responses to tactile sensations are just an echo of their personalities. “Some toddlers have a greater degree of behavioural inhibition in their temperament when it comes to novel situations or new sensations, and they take longer to get used to new things, keep in mind that exposure should be gradual and tailored to the child and his response.

The bottom line is that children lack basic experiences with textures on their hands. The more textures they are permitted to be discovered with their hands, feet, and other body parts the more we extend children’s understanding of different textures, and the more likely will they allow these textures into their mouths in the form of new foods, and they can put a name to different textures like “gooey” “crispy” “lumpy” “crusty”

The finally significant reason that getting messy helps babies during eating is that it increases the development of both hand and eye coordination and fine motor skills, A few examples of life skills that depend on refined hand-eye coordination are things like dressing, handwriting, shoe tying, utensil use and cutting. The building blocks for hand-eye coordination begin in the hand to mouth exploration phase, which is typical from 6-18 month of age


Mrs. Samina Khanyari
General Manager
Jumeirah International Nurseries (JINS)