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The Importance of Teaching Children to Clean Up Their Mess

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Teaching our children to clean up their mess may seem like a common-sense thing because ultimately it will make our lives as parents easier as well as protects wildlife and their habitats. However, there are some deeper lessons learned by children when we teach them to make it habit to clean up their messes. As a yoga teacher trained to work with children, I have observed certain yoga teachings that echo through our lives and can easily be taught to children – personal responsibility and owning your decisions.

My son is the child of an addict. His father began using hardcore addictive drugs at a very young age and was never interested in seeking help as an adult. Even though there is no longer contact (due to his father’s personal decisions), I still have fear that he could follow in his footsteps. I noticed the paternal grandmother cleaning up his half-brother’s mess a lot. Sadly, the half-brother is already showing signs of not thinking for himself and taking short cuts because everyone always cleans up his messes for him. Normally, this is what grandparents should do. Kids are supposed to get away with more and be spoiled by loving grandparents. Unfortunately in this situation they have full custody since the boys’ father is not present so this boy is being raised having all his messes cleaned up for him.

Teaching children to clean up their own mess makes them think about the mess before they even make it. They also consider if the mess is worth making. Knowing they’ll have to clean the mess after, they understand that takes away from their play-time. This empowers them to think for themselves and not rely on others to think for them.

When I was potty training my son, I read The Potty Boot Camp: Basic Training for Toddlers (Riffel, Suzanne, 2008). One of the ideas in the book was to make “having an accident” more work than going in the potty. This was done by making him clean up his own pee-pee mess as well as doing “drills”. It felt like the most exhausting time of my life, but in four hours I had my 20-month old recognizing the urge. He was telling me he had to go because he realized going pee-pee in his pants meant more work cleaning up his mess and going in the potty meant he had more time for what he really wanted to do – play.

How does this translate to adulthood? As an adult we understand our actions have consequences. If we were taught as children to clean up our mess and not rely on others to clean up our mess for us, then we will have that personal ownership of our own actions and recognize that we cannot rely on our parents/grandparents/spouses to clean up our mess for us. Further, we deliberate on whether the mess is worth making to begin with (much like the potty-training lesson). Break-ups are a mess. Addiction is a mess. Unlawful behavior is a mess. Losing a jobs, friends, and family members is a mess. Knowing we are the only ones responsible to clean up our messes, we make better decisions in our lives, jobs and relationships.

So when we’re out there rewilding our children, teach them to clean not only their own mess, but to encourage others to clean theirs as well. Let them help cleaning up the picnic or the campsite. Put them “in charge” of recycling or garbage collection during a camping weekend or a family picnic. If we teach them that they cannot leave their messes for others to clean up, we teach them to have love and respect for themselves, others and our planet.

Rebecca Chapman, Flordia Ambassador

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