You don’t know where your parenting went wrong. You take showers, you clean up after yourself, and you keep your home relatively neat and tidy. Okay, there’s the occasional night where you leave the dirty dishes for the next morning, but in general, you like to be clean.
So, why, oh why does your child love to be so dirty? You’re embarrassed because everyone thinks you’re neglectful.
But don’t worry, your child isn’t an anomaly. Kids, the world over, love to be dirty and here’s how you can address the muddy situation.
The Benefits of Dirt
The first thing you need to hear is that dirt isn’t bad. And not only is it an essential element for plants and animals, that icky substance actually supports human health and wellness, too.
Here are just some of the beneficial qualities kids obtain when they play with dirt.
Your Brain Is Better with Dirt
Studies show that dirt holds a key to unlocking your brain’s serotonin production. You see, hidden within dirt, specific types of bacteria exist and they can activate certain neurons which then make serotonin. This, in turn, supports important physiological and psychological functions.
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Dirt Strengthens the Immune System
You’ve probably heard that children with pets develop a stronger immunity than those without pets. The same goes for children who make frequent trips to the sandbox. That’s because when children get exposure to microbes within dirt, they develop a stronger, more resilient immune system.
Playing with Dirt Is Healthier than Technological Stimulation
Sure, letting your children watch television or play with their electronic devices is a great way to keep the laundry pile smaller, but it doesn’t really help your child grow and develop. Children need to play outside.
Yes, even if it means more muddy clothes. But that’s because without going outside, children are at risk of developing “nature-deficit disorder”, and too little outdoor play can also increase their risk of becoming depressed, obese or developing attention disorders.
Dirt is magical. Whether wet or dry or somewhere in between, it gives children a fun sensory experience. The feel, scent and texture changes depending on how much water you add and how you play with it.
Plus, playing with mud is a fun way to use your imagination. Children can build structures, or make imaginary soups with hand-picked leaves and berries. They can even create their own lakes and rivers.
It’s Only Dirt
Yes, it’s dirty. Yes, it’s muddy. And yes, it always means a necessary bath and extra laundry detergent, but at the end of the day, dirt is just dirt. And as long as your children know that they shouldn’t eat it and that it’s important to be clean before leaving the house or eating their next meal, nothing bad will happen!
Letting Your Kids Get Muddy Means They’ll Have Greater Exposure to Nature
When you allow your children to play outside, they also get to explore mother nature and all the insects, worms and plants they find. What a wonderful and effortless way to introduce natural science to your child.
Dirt Supports Fine Motor Skills
Nancy Close, Ph.D. and assistant professor at Yale’s Child Study Center says that children who have a chance to play in the mud have more opportunities to develop their fine motor skills. Why’s that? Playing in the mud is more than just getting dirty. It’s being able to shape, pat and fill things with dirt.
Playing with Dirt is Fun and Increases Happiness Levels
Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and author, Carrie Barron, MD, says, “Convening with the earth and others in play enhances cognition as well as happiness.” So, if your child is happy as a clam (or as a worm, in this case), let him or her play as much as they like.
When Should You Draw the Line When It Comes to Dirty Play Time?
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Okay, okay. Playing in the mud is good for my kids. But how can I teach them to be clean when they’re not in the mud?”
Here are some suggestions to help your child’s love for dirt and your love for cleanliness live in harmony:
If your child wants to play outside, let him! But only on the condition that he or she wears the “muddy” clothes. That is clothes that are specially set aside for muddy play time.
Make a mud room
To prevent you from scolding your child for bringing the mud into the house, create a room or space where your children can “de-mud” themselves before they enter the rest of the house. Everything comes off in that room, and you could even provide a wash basin or wipes to remove dirt from their skin.
Trees, plants, worms, and bugs like to be dirty, but toys like to be clean. This can be a good way to help your child see that certain items need to be cleaned, while other things can stay dirty all the time.
Food, Drink, and Art Supplies
Try to teach your child that spilled food and drink needs to be wiped clean, and that when you’re finished using art supplies, they need to be cleaned and put away. This way, you’ll be able to find and use them the next time you want to play with them.
Your Child Might Have a Messy Nature
Some children are naturally more messy and disorganized than others. While it’s important to help your children grow to be respectable adults, it’s also important to not punish them for being themselves.
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How to Make Cleanliness Appealing and Teach Your Child When It’s Appropriate
As you may have noticed, some of those tips made room for both muddiness and cleanliness. And that may be the best way to help your child learn to be clean: you have to allow him or her to get dirty.
There’s a time and place for all the mud in the world and there’s a time and place for cleanliness, too. Inside your home, you can set up designated mud-free places, mud-free times, and mud-free meals. But your child can rest assured that there’s plenty of muddy opportunities waiting for him outside.
Your child may love to be dirty and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Give them opportunities to get muddy and balance this with reasonable expectations for cleanliness, too.