Welcome to Part 2 of my 3 part series on mess. In my previous blog post I spoke about the idea of celebrating mess and it’s benefits. Go and check it out if you haven’t already. In this post I wanted to share with you the times where mess is NOT OK and how I identify the differences between functional and dysfunctional mess.

If a child’s playroom is has resources all over the place, but the child is focused and calm, then I would say that the mess they are in is functional. Functional mess creates a working space that can still be thrived in and the child maintains a steady and regulated demeanor.

However, there will be times where your child’s playroom will look like a tip. When they randomly empty baskets, dumping the contents in any old place. They barrel through their playroom like a whirlwind and displace anything they can. They are boisterous, loud and unfocused. I would say if this is the case, then your child has created dysfunctional mess.

Why is dysfunctional mess a problem?

Well, while I am not an OT or a psych, I have worked with young people for over a decade now and have my own children, so I have seen the changes in behaviour and negative affects of a space like this. Let me tell you what I have noticed over the years.

  1. A dysfunctional messy space can cloud the thinking of a child. Without a clear mind, creativity can be inhibited and so can other areas of cognition like problem solving and critical thinking.
  2. It makes it harder to find things. How do you feel when you can’t find something that you really need? Frustrated? Yep, me too. And our children are no exception. A messy space can lead to frustration and anger.
  3. Not being able to find things can often lead to making more mess. How? Well, if a child is playing with the train set, but can’t find a particular piece, then they are very likely to abandon that game and move on to something else. Often this happens without cleaning up the first mess. When this happens over and over, like a cycle, the mess just snowballs!
  4. It makes cooperative play tricky. If one child can’t think or function properly in a dysfunctional space, then how can multiple children?
  5. It becomes overwhelming for the child and we all know that overwhelm can cause avoidance. There is very little chance of encouraging a child to clean up after themselves when the whole room looks like a disaster. The task is too large and the chance of success seems far too out of reach for them. So their mind shuts down and they avoid.

What causes dysfunctional mess and how to avoid it?

Dysfunctional mess can often be a sign of something else that your child is trying to express. Maybe they are bored, over tired, overwhelmed with the company (if this is a playdate situation), getting sick or hungry. Typically, a dysfunctional space is often accompanied by over excited behaviour, being too loud, too physical, someone getting hurt or upset. This is your child letting you know that they are feeling dysregulated and they need you to intervene. In this case, all of our children are different and will need different things in order to find a more regulated state. You may need to take your child outside into nature and go for a run, walk, scoot or skate. Maybe they need to jump or skip to shake out the sillies. Or, your child might need a quiet calming activity like watching some telly, reading a book, having a snack or even a nap.

This is NOT the time to teach a process. When your child is heightened and the space is a giant mess, do not attempt to introduce a new process for cleaning it up. Do not try to teach them to clean up after themselves and set high expectations of personal responsibility and organization. Trust me. Your hard work and planning will go to waste. I know it’s tempting because you will be overwhelmed and frustrated too, but implementing processes is better done with calm receptive minds.

In my next post I will share ways you can encourage your child to maintain a workable space and different process suggestions for getting your children to take responsibility for their playrooms.

Have you noticed your child create dysfunctional mess in your house? What have you noticed about their behaviour during that time? Share your ideas and thoughts below.

A xo