How to deal with 3-year-old constantly into stuff/making messes - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 01:40 AM - Thread Starter
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In the past few weeks my barely-3-year-old dd has: dyed my living room carpet neon green (with dye that is meant to not come out and was not put within her reach), covered my entire office floor with sequins, painted her body with lipstick--twice, painted my closet door with lipstick, broken dh's glasses (which she KNOWS she was not supposed to have in the first place and had to climb to get them) and hidden them under her bed, been caught with a tube of toothpaste under her bed, hidden the remnants of still more of my makeup under her bed, painted herself twice with tempera paints, given herself a footbath in the kitchen sink, been caught playing in daddy's car several times (when she wasn't even supposed to be outside in the first place).... Oh, and she's gone potty in my mop bucket twice, in ds's garbage can once, and in an empty popcorn bowl once. Yesterday she put lotion on my piano keys, one dollop at a time, and then while I was going to get a tissue to clean it off, she swiped her hands up and down the keyboard, so now I have greasy keys and gunky lotion stuck all between the keys.

I have replaced tons of makeup that she's gotten into and ruined. Just today she got into my blush brush, which I just bought a week ago to replace the last one she ruined. She sticks it in my cream foundation and gets it all gunky, and then it can't be washed out. I've replaced lipsticks that she's poked her fingers in, eyeliner pencils that she's broken, you name it. I've cleaned up untold numbers of messes involving makeup, lotion, soap, shampoo, pens (writing on self and walls), water, craft supplies, etc.

I just don't know what to do. I'm pretty laidback, realizing that young kids like to explore, and that them getting into things is just part of the journey. But dd really does seem to be extra tactile. My ds was "busy", but nothing like this. I got roses for Mother's Day, and I found her taking the petals apart one by one, ripping the petals into tiny pieces, putting the pieces in the water in the vase, then sticking her hands in and just rubbing and twisting those pieces to death. If there's anything to touch or feel, she simply HAS to touch and feel it.

It's getting really old, and I've been thinking maybe I need to set more boundaries and be more clear about letting her know that this isn't acceptablew. Isn't a 3-year-old old enough to at least begin to mellow out with the messes? I do not want to punish, but I do wonder if she really hasn't ever been required to understand that this is a problem, y/k? I guess I'm trying to figure out that balance between letting her explore and not being ultra-uptight about messes, yet keeping my sanity and helping her understand that some things are not OK.

We are fairly well child-proofed, except with my makeup we don't have a latch on the drawer, and I know we need to get one (but installing those kinds of things seems to be beyond dh and me sometimes--we're not handy). She has started climbing, though, and that means that things she didn't used to be able to reach are now well within her reach.

Any natural (or gentle logical) consequences? How should I approach this?

Yesterday she got into my makeup--again--and covered herself in lipstick while I was mopping the kitchen floor. I had her come and sit on a chair where I could see her. I did give her some toys to play with on the chair, but told her that I needed to be able to have her near me, and since I had to get the floor mopped, she would need to sit there where I could watch her until I was done with the floor. So it was kind of a "time-in"; I tried to be humorous about it, though firm, but not punitive or angry. I am starting to get very frustrated in general, and she knows it, which I think is actually leading her to do some of this on purpose for attention.

P.S. This is not a new phase. She has always done these kinds of things. She is well-supervised, but she is sneaky and fast. Most of this stuff has occured in just a few minutes while I'm doing something else.
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#2 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 09:17 AM
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just wanted to say that my dd has just started this behavior, and she was never a baby/toddler that was sneaky or got into stuff... We were lucky cause she never put stuff in her mouth, always brought us the things she wasn't supposed to have etc, but all of a sudden she is using her chairs and stools to get into things she shouldn't, got into my makeup and lotion, and I saw her run to an electric socket! eeekkk!
I have a couple of ideas and one of them is I recognize a new intensity, emotional and physical- when she was running to plug a plug in it was done in a manic kind of way- so I think she wasn't able to control it... the other stuff? I just think she's just too independent for her own good... I know the using the stool is a "I'm a big girl and I'm going to do what my mommy does" ditto on the makeup. I never wear it but the day she got in it was the day after she saw me put some on so it was in her memory. Can you just toddler proof for a while? Do what you did when she was crawling but for a now smarter and more capable little girl? It's all about boundaries, boundaries, boundaries... and it too shall pass : ) She also know just when I have "checked out" so to speak and will focus on getting my attention. Is your dd sensitive like that? Could be why she's peeing in places and being naughty on purpose. I am coming to the conclusion that she and I are easily bored with each other... and I'm working on it
I try to remember somethings I read about a) a cup of attention- that when it's full they are content in their world, but if it's not then they will do whatever they can to fill it up... and if you are going to pay attention to them, it's more pleasurable to do it with love and intention, then with negative attention and b) it's our job to be like a cup where we create the vessel, and it's the kid's job to bounce around that vessel. As long as the vessel is strong and flexible, then the child can't break through or find cracks... LOL ok I will stop with the visuals Good Luck Momma!

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#3 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 10:44 AM
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It sounds like she needs more tactile experiences - have you given her time each day to play in water, sand, dry rice or noodles, play dough, etc.?

Other than that, it sounds like she's left unsupervised too much.
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#4 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 10:53 AM
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I don't have any advice. I just wanted to thank you for posting this because I am going through the same thing with 2 year old DS. It started out of the blue a few weeks ago and has gotten quickly out of control.

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#5 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Laurel View Post
It's getting really old, and I've been thinking maybe I need to set more boundaries and be more clear about letting her know that this isn't acceptablew. Isn't a 3-year-old old enough to at least begin to mellow out with the messes? I do not want to punish, but I do wonder if she really hasn't ever been required to understand that this is a problem, y/k? I guess I'm trying to figure out that balance between letting her explore and not being ultra-uptight about messes, yet keeping my sanity and helping her understand that some things are not OK.
First of all, no, it doesn't mellow out - it gets worse. Their little brains are coming up with so many more PLANS for things. My clarion call to action right now is hearing my son say "I'm using my MAGINATION." This inevitably means some disaster is about to happen.

I think you can start to set boundaries if you haven't already, but it will be a long process. What is most helpful to us is to establish what is 'his' and what is 'ours' and what 'needs to be asked about.' Like "you have to ask before you get anything out of the crafts cupboard."

I think the way you did it with the mop is just fine too as far as consequences go. My son also is strongly requested to help clean up any messes, and I also don't hide my disappointment like "I am REALLY SAD right now that there is a spot on the rug that may not come out." They do learn, but each item in your home is a learning process - like "lotion doesn't go on piano keys" is not always immediately obviously, especially if you're my son who then will say "but I was MANAGING that was MY ROCKET SHIP." Or whatever.

You said you're well baby-proofed, but it doesn't sound like you're preschooler-proofed. It is well worth reinvesting in time and effort to re-evaluate where things go (and even which things you actually need in your home.) My son was a climber from a very young age so we had more experience about what "proofed" really means. It means not having the indelible dye around unlocked.

I also strongly second that increased time for physical activity (preferably outdoors or in a big space) and increased planned tactile activities (can include helping to clean and wash too, btw - dishes and dusting are great and tactile) will probably help too.

Also I am not always a fan of corporate chemicals but I have to say the Crayola Washables have saved me a lot of time and effort.

~ Mum to Emily, March 12-16 2004, Noah, born Aug 2005, Liam, born January 2011, and wife to Carl since 1994. ~
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#6 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 12:53 PM
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DS1 did this all the time at that age. Once I recognized his actions for what they were - sensory-seeking behaviors - I made sure he had plenty of time each day to play with playdoh, dried beans, Moon Sand (his favorite), water, etc. And he stopped all the other behavior.

And watch her like a hawk until she stops doing this stuff! It's amazing what they can get into as soon as you turn your back. I remember going upstairs to get the kids clean clothes and coming back down to find that *somebody* had cracked nearly half a dozen eggs into an ice cube tray, put the tray in the microwave, and turned it on. In less than 2 minutes. :

A, wife to R, mom to 3 boys and welcoming a baby girl in May 2015
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#7 of 8 Old 07-29-2009, 04:40 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the commisseration and suggestions! I have been quite busy and distracted the past few weeks because I'm teaching at a workshop next week. I am normally a SAHM, but I do this workshop once a year, and the few weeks before are crazy with preparation. I hadn't even really thought about the fact that she might be doing this to get my attention until now, but that's probably a good part of what's going on.

She is definitely a sensory-seeker. Usually I do try to keep her busy with other sensory activities, like painting, playdough, etc. but as I said we've been out of our routine lately and busy with other things. That was a good reminder that she really does need those activities.

Preschooler-proofing: that's a great way to describe it! Yes, we definitely do need to make some more concrete plans for putting things out of reach, now that her reach is changing so quickly. One challenge is that we lack space, so things like craft supplies are not out of reach because I have nowhere out of reach to put them. I'll have to think on that one. And I've told my dh that we ARE putting cabinet locks on ASAP. He is getting a drill for his birthday tomorrow, so that should make that job easier. (We got discouraged on cabinet locks a few years ago when it took us an hour to put in ONE lock because we didn't have a drill and couldn't pre-drill the holes. So right now we only have them on things like the cupboard under the kitchen sink, etc.)

She is not left to roam. The main times she does things are when I'm doing chores, getting myself dressed, etc. Her getting into the lipstick the other day happened in the minute or so that I was making her bed in her bedroom; she was in my bathroom. The "neon-green carpet" happened while I was eating dinner, just around the corner, not ten feet away from her. She was so quiet I had no idea.

I think the reason she has been peeing in things is because a few weeks ago, we went to a family reunion in a mountain cabin with no running water, where the men and boys were free to "use the woods". Before that it had never occured to her that people went pee anywhere besides toilets, and I think that's been fascinating her and she's been experimenting with it. I don't think she's done it to get attention or purposely get in trouble.
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#8 of 8 Old 08-01-2009, 12:26 AM
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Did you get those locks? Are they working? My son figured out the normal cabinet locks before he was 2. They were useless after that. That's when the locks came off the cabinets and the gate went up in the kitchen (perhaps not GD, but much safer for him).

Climbing...we got rid of the chairs for quite awhile. I didn't mind him getting up on the table, but he couldn't drag that around to climb higher. Chairs, he could, so they disappeared.

DS had some makeup experiences, so we started playing with it *together* just a little bit. He had a year where he loved having a moustache drawn on with eyeliner. The difficulties I had in taking the lipstick off his body, and my sadness at not having my FAVORITE lipstick anymore (I pay no attention to how long I've had stuff like that, and I was conserving it b/c it's not made anymore) helped him see that lipstick was just a big huge pain (literally, I had to scrub it off him!) and he stopped playing with it.

I don't have experience in the rest of it...he got into stuff a bit earlier, and I had Eamon-proofed by the time he was nearing that age (though the moustaches were in his year of being 3).

Good luck! Hope the locks work...I highly recommend hiding the "action" of them from her as much as possible. Something I wanted to use, but couldn't afford, were those magnet locks, where I would just carry the magnet to unlock around with me (so no climbing temptation).
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