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July 17, 2024

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DAD BEAT: Just Let the Playdough Colors Mix

Take a deep breath, a step back and just let them play. You'll be happy you did.

You could say our toddlerโ€™s obsession with playdough was love at first sight. Since the very first time he smushed his little fingers in one of the cups and watched the bright-yellow substance ooze around his hand, he was hooked.

We were still in that โ€œnew parent worrying phase,โ€ so we hovered around him like little helicopters, constantly making sure he wasnโ€™t choking or trying to put it somewhere it didnโ€™t belong.

We found out quickly that this was a losing battle. Whatever we told him not to do โ€” โ€œDonโ€™t put the playdough in your mouth,โ€ โ€œDonโ€™t smush it in the couch,โ€ โ€œDonโ€™t mix the colors,โ€ etc. โ€” he was more inclined to do it (with a little grin on his face).

Eventually, we realized something that has since changed our lives:

Once you stop being stressed about your child mixing the playdough colors, the second part of your life begins.

Obviously, the metaphor here is bigger than playdough; this applies to our parenting-style in general. When you ease off the gas pedal a bit as a parent, you give your kid the chance to take the wheel in the decision making.

Toddlers are curious by nature and smarter than we sometimes think they are, so let them be! As parents, itโ€™s important to eventually take a step back and a deep breath. Toddlers LOVE to test boundaries, and thatโ€™s not always a bad thing. Allowing them to play independently and figure things out on their own will help them (and you!) later on in their lives.

Itโ€™s a difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our child now โ€” his stressors, strengths, emotions โ€” and one eye on the adult we are trying to raise. Getting him from here to there involves some struggle, for him as well as for us. The important thing is to allow the struggle. Allow disappointment, but be there to help him work through failure if need be.

According to Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of, โ€œremembering to look for opportunities to take one step back from solving our childโ€™s problems will help us build the resilient, self-confident kids we need.โ€

So next time you bust out the playdough, or any other messy item, let your child do his thing! Let those colors mix, because when they do, they make new, exciting colors (at least until eventually turning brown). Also, they learn something new! Eventually, the goal is to have your kid(s) need you less. Iโ€™d love to have my kid need me forever, but thatโ€™s what pets are for, not children. Itโ€™s your job to slowly work your way out of the picture. Brutal, but thatโ€™s love.


Oh, and in case you need it, hereโ€™s a recipe for the best homemade โ€œno cookโ€ playdough this side of the Mississippi:

  1. Two-and-a-half cups of flour
  2. One-and-a-quarter cups salt
  3. One-and-a-half tablespoons Cream of Tartar
  4. Five tablespoons of vegetable oil
  5. Two cups boiling water
  6. Food coloring or liquid watercolors

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About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.