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Toddler Talk: Getting Dirty


My two-year son sat down on the beach, took off his sandals, wiped the sand off of his feet, and then put his sandals back on. He stood up, took five steps. Then he complained again, “Sand!” He sat down, and repeated the process.

We had made it about five feet from the boardwalk. The ocean was looking very far away indeed!

Playing in sand was a favorite task at home as he often played for hours at our sand and water play table. But apparently, real life sand at a beach on his feet was just too messy for him.

Children generally are fascinated with sand and water play activities. However, some children go through a phase where they do not like to get dirty.

This is usually not a sign of a medical problem, but rather a phase when children are developing their tactile, or touch, sense. Touch is an important sense that helps us to determine how to interact with and move in our environment. We explored our world thought our many senses including touch.

As this sense develops, toddlers may not like certain sensations (such as sand between their toes). This is an important step because it shows that they can determine the differences between types of textures, such as soft, mushy, crunchy, hard or slimy.

Eventually, most children learn to adapt to various textures, and the negative emotional responses (fear or anxiety) to innocent textures (such as sand) go away. Whereas, some reponses may remain such as fear of hot or sharp surfaces. These are protective responses that keep us safe.

So, do not worry if your toddler does not love walking in the sand at the beach or enjoy activities that may involve getting dirty, like finger painting. This is an important developmental step that will change forms as he grows. Just reassure him about touching things that are not dangerous or off limits. You help him adjust to these textures in a manner that is acceptable to him. For example, my son enjoyed sitting on a beach towel and playing in sand next to the towel. He was happy, the family enjoyed our beach trip and my son’s feet were clean!

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