Little Water Wasters: What to Do When Your Youngster Doesn’t Understand the Meaning of Conservation

Has anyone else spawned a water-waster?  If I give Audrey a little watering can and ask her to water the flowers, she’ll dump the whole thing on the pavement.  She enjoys flushing the toilet.  If she washes her hands, she turns the water on full blast and splashes water everywhere.  Then she cries when I won’t let her wash her hands every five minutes.  One day I wondered why it was eerily silent in the bathroom, and I found that Audrey had taken all the towels out of the cabinet and soaked each one in the sink!

How have you talked to your kids about conserving resources–at a two-year-old level?  Audrey will beg to water the plants or wash her hands, which seem like innocuous enough activities for a youngster–but how do I encourage her to do those things with the proper respect for Mother Earth?  Or do I just need to put up with the waterworks for a few years, then sit her down as a teen for a comprehensive lecture on ecology? 

If anyone has any brilliant tips or suggestions for me, please post a comment. 


  1. I wish I had the answer. I have the exact same problem with my 2 year old. Except she does water the plant but keeps asking for more and more water for the same plant. The soaked towels in the sink – yes, I experienced the same moment just the other day. My 5 year old understands when we say it is not good for the earth. So we may not have to wait until they are teenagers – just a few more years… Although, I think the more we talk about it the sooner rather than later it will sink in.

  2. There was a really cute video that we caught on Sesame Street a while back. Frank the Fish’s pond is hooked directly to Carl the Boy’s bathroom sink. As Carl runs the water, Frank’s pond gets drier and drier – until Frank calls Carl and asks him to turn off the tap.

    As soon as Carl does, the pond refills.

    It hasn’t stopped Freddie from wanting to refill his baby pool again and again and again, but it has helped him be better with his regular grooming habits.

    The video is “Sesame Street – Frank the Fish” on YouTube – link below.

  3. We have the same problem, too! Yesterday my boys were drawing on the pavement with sidewalk chalk, and went inside for a glass of water to rinse it off. Seemed innocuous enough until I realized they quit drawing and were just dumping glass after glass of water on the pavement. We’ve tried to talk to them about wasting water, but it doesn’t seem to sink in yet.

  4. Thanks for that video, Fern! We have a problem with water wasting (and all other kinds of wasting as well). It try to get my little one out to shared water play (at the park and pool) — at least then we are consolidating our water waste! When hand washing (which she wants to do as much as possible) I put some water in the sink and then let her splash as much as she wants, but don’t let her have any more water when she lets that water out. Luckily she can’t turn on the taps herself yet.

  5. I have two little water wasters. Their absolute favorite activity is to just fill the sink up and play in it. I did get my son a little toy that uses less water but still involves water play (little boats travel through canals), but it doesn’t stem the other water activities. I guess that I figure this is part of the development of their little science brains. Watching what happens with water is a safe way for them to experiment with cause and effect and explore the laws of physics. I’m hoping that one day my son will be a great engineer who will find alternative energy sources or will re-invent the steam engine to burn landfill waste. (This will combine his 3 great loves: trains, garbage trucks, and water.)

    So, have I found a way to put a stop to the water-wasting? No. I have just rationalized its usefulness.=)

    One thing I have done is to give the kids each a bucket of water and some toys outside and told them that when that water is gone, they are done with water play. You can also take them to places like OMSI and the Children’s museum where they have the water play stations that I think recycle the water.

  6. My only suggestion is to let them play. It wastes water yes, but this is an important milestone in their psychological development. At the age of 2-4 they are trying to develop a sense of conservation of mass/volume, and of cause-and-effect. They won’t understand our version of conservation until older.

  7. Thanks to everyone who’s posted so far! I like the idea of giving her a specific amount of water and telling her that once it’s gone, it’s gone. I have tried that before only to see her immediately dump out her bucket or water pail, but I need to be firm. I will also keep in mind that this is just a stage . . . and an important developmental one at that.

    Fern, I’ll show my daughter the Sesame Street link and see if it sinks in. By the way, I love the name Freddie!

  8. I sing a lot of songs to my daughter to motivate her to do certain things. It keeps her focused and on track. I am not a great signer I just make up simple repetitive words to any tune and voila I have a two year old following my lead.

    Think of creating a song that start with a certain amount of water and ends with no longer using water.

  9. I had that problem last summer, but two things have helped me out. 1) Get a spray nozzle that they can help manage. 2) Enlist a helper in specific projects. (Let’s water the flowers together!) That way your tasks get done (albeit a bit sloppily) and you can monitor what’s being dumped where.

    Is it perfect? No. There are lots of times when I water the plants and it becomes an impromptu sprinkler but that’s ok. There’s plenty of time for other lessons about the environment. I’m just happy she’s getting her hands dirty and gaining an appreciation for the outdoors now.

  10. My son was 3 when he saw the water faucet vs fish thing and it definitely turned the tide. We worked it up even further with this… “If you are done washing your hands turn off the water and we’ll see if enough was left over”. We’d then walk down to a stream behind our house to verify there was still enough water left for the fish and other animals (cats and any other cute pet-ables). “Oh, good, you turned if off just in time! Now the baby birds can come for a drink”. We would often wait till we saw something drinking the water. It turned into a game of sorts, how fast could he turn off the water, how little could he use, but I think that’s what made it work so well with him. As he has gotten older he’s understanding the balance is not so severe as that but absolutely delicate. As far as good old fashioned water play whenever we know it is going to rain we put out a bin to collect the water and he’s allowed to do with that whatever he likes. Remembering all this I guess it’s no surprise that the plants he’s chosen for his room are cacti!

  11. Heidi, I think Audrey would be motivated by inspirational songs about water conservation! I will try that.

    Robbie, the spray nozzle is a great idea. It takes her a lot longer to spray all the water out of the bottle than it does to dump the whole water can on the pavement. Maybe next time she wants to help water, she can spritz.

    Rose, that is a truly great story about teaching your child to conserve resources–and to think, it all started with Sesame Street. I still haven’t shown Audrey that clip Fern linked to, but I will ASAP. It sounds like it really sunk in for your son.

  12. I remember when my six year old was that old and water waste seemed as if it was an everyday battle. Between the bathroom sinks, the hose when we were in the backyard playing, or even the toilet, she could’ve filled a pool. Luckily I learned a simple thing to keep her occupied. Try filling a large pot or bowl with water for her. Put that inside of a baby pool with lots of wash clothes and sponges, little medicine sized cups and little boats. Even if they spill the water, they have just as much fun splashing around in the bottom of the pool as they do pouring it out. To make it even cooler, pop one of those bath time color changing balls in, or the melting dinos, and let them play.

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