There was a time when playing in the dirt and getting as dirty as you wanted to be was normal. That does not seem to be the way for toddlers anymore. Does that mean that your toddler is overly anxious about dirt? Is your child exhibiting signs of OCD? Have we, as parents, somehow taught them that dirt is bad? Have parents forgotten some of their own best memories of playing when they were little? This is a tough one. Yes, parents do prefer to keep their children clean. They don’t want others thinking that they neglect their child by not washing them. It could be any of these, or it could be that the parent and the child are both repulsed by being dirty.
Outdoors or Inside
I know when I was a child, there were no electronics like there is today. We had television; we did have one game system. However, these were not allowed until the evening. If we ever claimed to be bored, we were told to play outside. You know what? That did not bother us. The difference today is that kids do not play outside as much. Many, starting at toddler age or sooner, are placed in front of some electronic toy or television and told to watch or play. Many parents do not show their toddlers how to enjoy the outdoors. These toddlers likely know nothing about playing cars in the dirt, making mud for the doll to have a mud mask. The outdoor games we used to play have gone down in history, and most have been forgotten.
Okay, some toddlers have an aversion to being dirty. Even if it is a juice or milk mustache, or food on their hands, these toddlers may seem to have a complete meltdown until you clean them up again. Even situations such as doing an art project can easily spin out of control for the toddler who is anxious about being dirty. Let’s say they are using glue and glitter to make a gift for mom. Even a little smidgen of glue can cause terror in the child. You all know what glitter is like, you can’t get all that picked up forever! Can you imagine what that would do to a toddler who hates being dirty?
Phase Out, Please!
Being a parent myself, I recall some of these odd phases. Most toddlers will go through a neat freak phase, as I called it. During this type of phase, how well or how fast a child gets through it, is dependent on the parent. Yes, you! It can be a very touchy phase that leaves you mystified. At first, it may seem cute and maybe a little humorous when the child reacts so fiercely to being dirty. Trust me, that gets old fast! This is the time patience is tested. Stay calm and help your toddler through it. Do not laugh at him or her and their reaction. Be understanding and help them wash up, so they are clean.
I recall being younger, and my parents would say, “A little dirt never killed anyone!” And, I remember crying because I was not anyone. It was me! Our home was not dirty by any means, but it also could not be immaculate with all the kids and our friends. It is not that parents left us dirty either. The old logic about fresh air is true; it does help one to feel better. Being in the sun will cheer many people up. Being able to run and scream and play outside basically was the best thing to happen. I believe more parents and grandparents would do well to teach toddlers and children how to have fun outdoors. Yep, even teach them about jumping in mud puddles barefoot. This is not something you want to force on the toddler. When they see you have all kinds of fun, it shouldn’t take too long before they try it out.
Even the idea of getting clean can be made fun. As long as the clean fixation is not holding your toddler back either mentally emotionally or socially, this is not a phase to stress over. Even if you were the only one enjoying the mud or getting dirty outside while playing, you can show the toddler how easy and fun it can be when you are done playing. I was lucky as a kid; we had a farm, which meant cattle tanks. One was always kept full of water so that we could jump in, splash, and get the dirt off before going into the house. I realize not everyone can do that, but buy a kiddie pool or a fun toy sprinkler and let you sweet little toddler run through the water.
Do Not Further Develop Your Toddler’s Fear
Parents will sympathize with the toddler when they have the meltdown over being dirty. At the same time, please, please create some dirty play areas for your toddler. Build or purchase a sandbox, make some mud puddles and let them see you go through them. The kitchen is also available for families to use. Let the toddler help make cookies. Not the kind that you drop by spoonfuls roll-out cookies instead. It is another option that may let the toddler realize having food on their hands, or sticky dough is quite all right.
How It Feels
Quite often, this could be a sensory phase. A toddler may not like the feeling of different textures. Sand, rocks, grass, or wood can be a strange feeling on their feet. Explore different textures slowly, let the toddler see that you and the rest of the family enjoy being barefoot outdoors. Again, it comes down to the difference in outdoor time-the difference between then and now. Today’s toddlers need to experience things the way we did growing up. Maybe, it is time to schedule outdoor playtime instead of video games and binge-watching shows. The fresh air never hurt anyone, right?!