There are some children who just don’t want to get messy. They balk at activities that require hands-on involvement, including finger painting, kneading cookie dough, and pushing seeds into potting soil. Sometimes, they are just shy, and as the year progresses, they take steps to further their involvement. In other cases, their parents discourage them from getting dirty, and teach their children to be observers rather than participants.
Throughout the four years or so that I taught Mommy and Me classes, I worked with various teaching partners. While at least half the teachers in our school have teaching degrees, many are like me and come from other walks of life. One of my partners at that time had studied psychology.
During a particular ten week session, one year old Natalie and her mother always came to class dressed impeccably. They appeared to have just walked out of a magazine into our classroom. When it came time to create an art project or do anything that might be messy, Natalie’s mother held her daughter back. Despite our encouragement and coaxing, she preferred to watch. Though we sensed that she didn’t want Natalie, or herself, to get dirty, she claimed that her daughter simply wasn’t that interested in art projects. This child was only one year old.
I understand that parents have their own reasons for the things they do, but in this case we just didn’t buy her argument. It seemed to us that Natalie’s mother was not keen on getting within ten feet of paint, glue or anything messy in the least. Even baking was a problem because we encouraged the tots to stir the mixture in the bowl. Imagine a one year old holding a large plastic spoon, flinging with sheer abandon at a bowl full of flour. Quite a mess at times!
Week after week, we encouraged this mother to dress down for class so her child could partake in the fun. We offered her oversized smocks to keep Natalie clean, and even old doctor’s lab coats to keep herself clean. After about six weeks of this, my partner with the psychology background could no longer hold her tongue. She told me that she had learned that if kids aren’t allowed to touch messy things and get dirty, they’ll have bad sex lives when they grow up.
Really?! While this seemed plausible to me, I wondered if it was really true. Sandra R. Leiblum, PhD, is a leading authority in sex therapy and has published more than 130 clinical and research studies and has edited ten books. She says that there is no objective evidence one way or the other, only conjecture. Yet, she addresses the theory in her book Getting the Sex you Want...A Woman's Guide to Becoming Pleased, Proud and Passionate in Bed, written with Judith Sachs.
“We start our first chapter off comparing two little girls, one who enjoys the experience of being muddy and wet and the other who is afraid to ‘get dirty,’ and suggest that it may have an impact on how they approach the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Leiblum. “But, it’s a literary example, not based in data. Certainly, though one could argue that being overly concerned about neatness and mess would not contribute greatly to feeling uninhibited in bed!”
So, please not only allow, but encourage your young children to explore the world around them, even though it means getting dirty at times. Smocks, soap, and water, are all wonderful inventions!