Things are About to Get Messy!

Do you avoid messy play with your toddler?

If so, I hope you’ll reconsider. It’s so worth it.

More than once I’ve caught a parent try to hide a look of horror when, during a therapy session, I pull out a can the mushy goodness that is Play-Doh. No one’s ever objected to the Play-Doh itself. (How could they? I mean, we’re talking about Play-Doh!) What freaks them out is the mess.

To be fair, it’s a valid concern. Play-Doh can be messy, but most of the time, after I share a few tips for handling the mess, doubt fades and Play-Doh sees regular activity. Before long before they really learn to love it’s squashy awesomeness.

If you apply my tips below, I’m confident you will too.

An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Play-Doh

  1. Safety first! Set up a safe place for play. I’m talking about your house, not your kid! You wan to keep your house safe! Choose a place with no carpet or, if you can’t do that use this splat mat or even a cheap shower curtain or plastic table cloth to protect your floor. Anyway, small pieces of Play-Doh dry within a few hours and vacuum up easily.(Yep. I left the mess under my table for a few hours so it’d be easier to clean up and I’ve got no shame about it!) 
  2. Before age three Play-Doh is not an independent activity. Especially at first you’ll need to monitor this closely. 
  3. Play-Doh will get stuck under your little one’s fingernails. If this is going to bother you or you toddler, there’s an easy solution: plan play-time right before bath-time. 
  4. If you give toddlers more than one color they will mix the colors. If this is going to stress you out, the are are two ways to handle it. Limit the Play-Doh available to only one color at a time or remind yourself it’s no big deal, a jar of Play-Doh costs less than a dollar. 
  5. Toddlers are going to put Play-Doh in their mouths. Young children use all their senses to learn, so they’ll want to taste it. The good news: most children won’t like the taste. Problem solved.  For the rest, you’ve got some work setting up boundaries.I do this by saying “Uh-oh, yuck!” as soon as I see it heading toward the mouth, followed by a positively phrased direction like,  “Play-Doh stays on the table.” You want to tell your child what you expect, as opposed to “Don’t do that!”  (For details on positive phrasing, be on the lookout for my upcoming book, Taming That Tantrum.)   
  6. Your child will want to walk around with it. I recommend the same strategy as taste-testing: redirection through positive phrasing:“Play-Doh stays at the table” followed by redirecting the child to the table. If they don’t cooperate, ask  “Are you all done?” If not, they usually jump right back to the table. If they still walk away, be firm and start cleaning up the mess together, ready to and move on to something else. 
  7. Sometimes it’s a lot of work for little actual play.  You get it all set up and your child only play for a few minutes.  This should only occur a few times as your child is learning the Play-Doh routines. 
  8. Don’t to set up too many rules. I recommend two simple rules, keeping Play-Doh at the table and out of our mouths. 

Play-Doh presents many different developmental benefits. I’m going to talk about those in my next post: six ways Play-Doh promotes learning.

In the meantime tell me, are you brave enough to introduce your toddler to Play-Doh? If so, please share your tips for keeping the mess to a minimum. 

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