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The Careful Art of Cleaning Your Child

February 1, 2011

Every meal or snack time begets the same panic mode for a parent. There is a mess similar to the aftermath of a nuclear bomb that your child has managed to cause with the things she didn’t want: water, a bowl, 2 grapes and some cheese.

There is an art to the process of cleaning your child. By age 2 I’m sure most parents have mastered it, or at least can do it skillfully enough to avoid making the mess worse. It’s like hunting a wild animal in the African outback – it must be done carefully and with great caution.

First, there is surveillance. Take mental notes of your child and which way the food is happily, yet devilishly, being tossed and/or smeared. Understand that different methods your son or daughter chooses to “express themselves” will require different tools for clean up. These can include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Washcloths
  • Paper towels
  • Sink hose
  • Vacuum
  • Dry towels
  • Napkins
  • A small, yet hungry, dog

When your child shows signs of being done (these can be easily detected with bowl launching, high pitched screaming, and food making it easily onto the head but not in the mouth) it’s time for the dangerous dance to begin.

Carefully make your way over to your child with necessary clean up utensils in hand, but not in their direct line of vision. Try a distraction method – “Tut tut, it looks like rain” is a great one.

The most important part is to remove the bowl, spoon, cup, and all extra food as quickly as possible – in one fell swoop. Your child will immediately decide he or she will starve to death if the extra food isn’t shoved into their mouth, but remain firm. If they truly are hungry still, there is plenty left in their hair for a later snack.

Any food snatched because you’re not moving quick enough, and given as some type of peace offering to you must be refused. This is vital to the clean up process.

After the food is removed, clean the tray while holding the hands away from attempting to “paint” and “draw” with the remainder. This can be difficult with only two hands. So move fast.

Now comes the hardest part – the physical cleaning of the child. You absolutely must AVOID EYE CONTACT. Toddlers look for signs of weakness during this trying time, and like raptors will pick away at it. Hands come first, make sure to pry them open so you can retrieve the “goodies” smashed inside. Expect a meltdown because it’s obvious you’ve just murdered their best friend “Pasta ‘n Peaches”. Stay the course, Pasta ‘n Peaches can come back for the next meal if needed.

Face comes next. Remember that every child has a innate sense of when their face is about to be wiped down, so do this quickly and with big moves. Try to cover as much surface area as possible. Pursing of the lips, head shaking, screaming, and occasionally licking the towel are all expected, but certainly not encouraged.

Finally, the removal of your child from their seat. If you have already attempted this before, you’ve learned that a small towel placed on their lap before the meal is a must. If not, I’m sorry. You’ll have to attempt to remove everything they’ve eaten (and things you didn’t know they had) off their pants and shirt only to find they made a large gooey mess on the back anyway. This means more laundry, which is a sign of an amateur.

Practice makes perfect.

After letting them down and seeing 15 peas, a banana chunk, 2 noodles and something blue fall to the ground, praise your child lavishly for eating so nicely. Use words like, “Big boy!” and “YAY!” with clapping. This isn’t done because you believe it or want your child to, but rather as a pep talk for your self. A sort of rally of your spirits that next time will be better.

And it just might. ::shrugs::

Then turn your attention to the floor – where the aftermath is taunting you while your child stomps and grinds it into the carpet while screaming in delight. And buck up – it’s nearly time to practice mastering the clean up all over again.


  • Summer Davis

    February 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    *hangs head in shame* I’m an amateur. And I have 2 kids. I never put a towel in Madilyn’s lap and almost ALWAYS have to change her clothing after meal time. She refuses to leave a bib on so I usually take her shirt off but pants rarely escape unscathed. I’m going to try the towel in the lap thing. Think she’ll notice?

  • GuiltySquid

    February 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    If you get a dog, you’ll totally start to feel more successful at feeding your toddler.

    It’ll be an illusion, but it’s one that requires less work.

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    February 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm

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  • kim

    February 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    and wait, did I say you kill me — peaches n’ pasta? Do you feed this combo to Bella often? With sauce? I love this!

  • kim

    February 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Sucking the wash cloth. GAG. Skeeves me sooo bad!! John still sticks his tongue out when I wash his face just to gross me out. Oh, and I totally caved, gave up and started feeding my kids in just diapers. Really. AND I took all those fancy/pretty harnesses off the highchair. I see you giving me the side eye. I was washing them EVERY meal. So I took them off, prepped well, and did.not.move from the table during meal time. Our high chair was not pretty. But it was clean! 🙂

  • Heidi K.

    February 2, 2011 at 7:12 am

    laughing too hard to put a comlete sentence together. SO true. I’m also relieved to hear that sucking on the washcloth is normal.

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Who knew? I think it’s nasty but there are times when it’s like Bella just crawled through the desert and any type of moisture is needed.

  • Krista

    February 2, 2011 at 5:31 am

    a towel in her lap? why haven’t i thought of that before. i always manage to find pieces of food on her lap, under how butt and in her diaper (how the hell do they get THERE?)

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      I have no idea, I really don’t. But yes, try the towel, it really helps. I use a small dishcloth.

      SO excited for your shower tonight!!

      1. Alyssa

        February 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

        How do you get Bella to NOT pull the towel/cloth off of her?

        1. Diana

          February 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm

          I place it under her tray on the high chair, and then snap the tray over it. I also tuck it under her legs a little and partially behind her back. She has pulled it out before but usually her bib covers the top and she can’t see it.

  • Alyssa

    February 2, 2011 at 2:27 am

    LOL literally.

    I told you I read your posts before I go to bed and here I am in bed trying now to make a (too loud) laugh lest my husband wakes up and calls me crazy.

    WONDERFUL post.

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      You are too cute. This was such a great comment to wake up to this morning.

  • branson

    February 1, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Oh my goodness, best post I have read today! My favorite puzzle is how aiden can eat fully clothed and yet we find puffs stuck to his boy parts when we change his diaper! Lol.

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      YES! I find little pieces everywhere – the changing pad, the laundry bin, the tub…

  • Alison

    February 1, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Probably one of my most favorite blogs by you. Peaches n’ pasta 🙂 I was laughing so hard.

  • Alyssa Gamlin

    February 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I love it… this is so true.

  • Cindy @ This Adventure, Our Life

    February 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    This is funny!! Okay so Bailey—we have to catch her right BEFORE she is finished, because otherwise she takes her two dirty hands and rubs them in her hair, say what? yes, in her hair- gross!! It is a quick and fast- back her away from table, grab hands, wipe, wipe face, remove bib before she fishes out more food!!! UGH!

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm

      What is it about the hair and their food? Seriously, Bella acts like she’s on an Herbal Essences commercial as she wipes it on her head.

      1. Cindy @ This Adventure, Our Life

        February 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

        Oh my perfect imagery!! Ha Ha Ha! So true!

  • Jen

    February 1, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    When I wipe B’s mouth with a cloth he tries to eat it (really he is trying to suck the water off of it). The other day I made the rookie mistake of taking his bib off before wiping off his hands (he had pasta). He looked right at me, smiled and smeared his hands all over his belly. Little bugger!

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm

      Aw. :/ I do this. Sometimes I trick myself into thinking she won’t do it, and then sure enough – right onto her shirt/hair/face it all goes.

  • Mama P

    February 1, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    :Waving hands wildly and doing some type of hanka dance over here: That sounds like EVERY FREAKIN MEAL at our house, multiplied by 3! and the little one is only 6 months! My 2 year old loves to tell me “I’m donnnnneeee” as he takes his food and flings it at the nearest objest!

    Although I have never thought to place a towel in the lap. Lifesaver, I will be trying this first thing in the morning.

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Towels are the best – they save so much clean up time and pant changes.

  • Elle

    February 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I guess I’m lucky, Sebastian just stands there while I clean up his face after mealtime. He also insists on having a “na-kin” (wet wipe) beside his plate of food so he can clean up any minor spills as they happen. Sometimes we end up needing several “na-kins.”

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Um. I would like Sebastian to come over to our house and show Bella what it should look like when you eat. Amazing.

  • TheNextMartha

    February 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Wait. You let your child EAT?

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      I forgot to mention this is just skills practice. Like for ninja training. After you master it, you no longer provide your child with food.

      1. GuiltySquid

        February 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm

        It’s irresponsible to do otherwise, really. I mean, how else will they be ready for the apocalypse?

      2. TheNextMartha

        February 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm

        Phew, cause that’s just a lot of pressure.

        1. TheNextMartha

          February 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm

          And does “feeding them” include Cheetos? I’m asking for someone else.

          1. Diana

            February 2, 2011 at 8:54 pm

            Yes, but it’s best to just throw the Cheetos at them from a distance. It can get ugly if you get to close.

  • Jen

    February 1, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Yay, I’m first!! And this is truly hilarious. Because just when I thought I had the whole cleaning thing under control, I had to start cleaning up after TWO of them. And there is strength in numbers, so don’t underestimate the power of the food party.

    1. Diana

      February 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

      I can’t fathom 2. I really can’t.

      I think I’ll just let them eat in the bathroom at that point.

      1. Jen

        February 3, 2011 at 9:49 pm

        It’s actually not so bad because they’re both going through some kind of toddler-exic phase where they don’t eat that much and they have dark circles under their eyes. Seriously, 3rd world country kids look healthier. I’m about to take them to get spray tanned just so people will stop thinking they both have some weird disease. I freaking caved and tried to give them cereal for dinner one time, and they refused. So whatever. My freakishly skinny kids (who are THIS CLOSE to calling CPS on themselves) are also pretty clean. I call it win-win.

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