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):
- Paper towels
- Sink hose
- Dry towels
- 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.