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Toddler Tips

Protecting Toddlers at Home

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 5, September-October 1998, pp. 151-53

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My children, two and a half years old and three and a half years old, have defeated just about every child-proofing device in our home. While it is great to think they are budding mechanical geniuses, I'm not sure how to take a shower without them dumping the peanut butter and jelly, borrowing my strainers to catch frogs, and playing baseball with the eggs. The child lock on the front door still works, but I wonder how much longer that will last. To complicate matters, living in an apartment limits the structural changes we can make and still receive our deposit back when we move. How have other families kept their children safe and secure without turning their home into a fortress?

Response

Here are a few things I found helpful with our three children. I bathe when my husband is home, either at night or before he leaves for work. I've enlisted the help of friends or relatives occasionally, especially if I needed to get ready for a special event. It seems that if I take a bath in the evening, the next morning goes much more smoothly. In the morning, I just wash my hair in the kitchen sink. This way I am in hearing range and a child is less likely to drag a chair over to explore the spice cabinet. An added benefit is that I have to get the dishes out of the sink before I can wash my hair! Another option is to put the kids in the tub while you shower, being sure to put anything out of reach you don't want dumped. Many kids like taking a bath in the "rain," especially with Mom.

To discourage climbing, I have locked chairs away. To keep doors closed, we have found latch locks work well. They are inexpensive enough to leave behind when you move and can usually be found in the hardware section of most stores. We place them high enough on the door that only a medium-sized adult can reach them. They were lifesavers when I hosted La Leche League meetings. I had one room that was a combination sewing room and office that was not child-friendly. Not one toddler ever figured out a way in.

Remember in a few short years your children will be older and less impulsive and you will be much more likely to have time for a leisurely shower.

Kami Crum
Reedley CA USA

Response

While it is prudent to control hazards when possible, it is unrealistic to expect to completely protect children, at any age, from the many dangers they may encounter. My husband and I believe it is more realistic and beneficial to consistently enforce clearly established boundaries and to teach children to respect limits that benefit both themselves and others. Children and adults who do not acquire the discipline of self- control by respecting limits can threaten their own well-being and the well-being of others.

Three pieces of parenting advice have helped us with this area of discipline:

We use substitutes for the word "no" which more clearly convey the reason for "no." Examples are "Don't touch-will hurt Joshua!" (expressed in a voice of fear and alarm) and "ah-ah-ah-NOT for Baby." It is helpful to then redirect the child's attention to another object or activity. We found this advice in The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears.

One radio psychologist observes that parents who say in frustration, "I've tried everything and nothing works!" may need to simply be patient and consistent with one well-evaluated method appropriate to the child's development.

We have also discovered that while it is impossible to completely monitor a child all of the time, children can learn limits simply by spending more time in direct contact with parents. For a long time, I regularly attempted to direct my children's attention away from my work so I could "get something done." Both my husband and I now look for ways to include our children in our chores instead. Though it may seem too time-consuming, it takes no more time and much more positive energy than frequent intervention in their negative behavior. The benefits are many. We can more closely monitor their activities and we can encourage their curiosity and exploration of their environment cautiously and constructively.

Consistency is most difficult when one is tired or rushed, but it is a key to problem areas. We have already begun to reap the benefits of consistently enforcing the boundaries we have set with our two- and four-year-olds. They generally respond quickly to warnings. If they don't, minimal corrective action is usually sufficient. Not only do we receive compliments on their respectful behavior, more importantly my husband and I have found greater enjoyment having them with us at home and in public.

I wish success to all parents as they direct the curiosity of their geniuses!

Anne Bundy
Flint MI USA

Response

Our older child was (and is!) very inquisitive and hands-on. When he was a toddler, I kept him safe not by keeping him away from dangerous things, but by introducing him to them under close supervision. With him in my lap, I would hold his hand firmly and give detailed explanations. I patiently allowed him to satisfy his curiosity. Phrases such as "one-finger touch" and "Wait, that's a supervision toy!" and "We'll hold it together," go over better than a continual "No, no, don't touch!" I also found that describing dangers, such as, "electricity is hot, it burns like a big candle." (I let them put their finger near a candle flame if necessary) and letting them understand little falls (from two steps up) was helpful. Draw a line on the floor or driveway to show the limit of approach, and enforce it. If something is really an irresistible item, try to put it out of sight for a few days until the fascination wears off.

Something that helped at our house was giving both my children many craft items to play with, such as empty jars, cereal boxes, catsup squirt bottles, and oatmeal canisters, their own spoons, trowels, a jar of rice with food coloring, their own rolls of string and tape, paper bags, and cups. I gave them a stool to the water faucet, and decided that having water on the floor was acceptable to me. It certainly beat other things that ended up on the floor! I let them watch (and handle samples) whenever I baked. We brought leaves and mud inside to "watch grow." We feel it has paid off because our older son is a precocious scientist now, and his kindergarten teachers are amazed.

Linda Lantz Brock
Marietta GA USA

Response

It is a marvel to behold the new skills those young ones can master! However, make sure your amazement at what they can do is not indirectly "praising" their efforts to defeat your security measures. Try not to talk (and think) about safety measures as an attempt to outwit your children, but as a way to keep them from harm. Kids should be given a consistent message that the safety lock means "not for them."

You may have to modify your expectations about how long you can turn your back on young ones so active. Showering may have to wait until they are safely asleep or another adult is present or in extreme cases, until they are in school! (But hey, your true friends will tolerate your temporary hygiene habits!) This phase of mothering will not last forever.

You can padlock one closet or cabinet for the truly dangerous items such as knives, medicines, and cleaning supplies without doing damage to the rental property. For the messes that threaten only your home's order (or your sanity) enlist their help in cleaning up. If they are old enough to dump the peanut butter and jelly, they are old enough to help scrape it off the floor. Their "help" may not amount to much, however having them go through the motions with you rather than doing a different activity they'd prefer might enhance their understanding of the consequences of their behavior.

For those brief moments when you must count on them to entertain themselves, try to bring out a safe toy or game that they haven't seen for a while, perhaps even get them started by playing with them. They might find it more engaging than your off-limits areas. Good Luck!

Jane DeGisi
Shawnee KS USA

Response

My boys are two and four. I have faced the same dilemmas. Two ideas that worked for me were:

I take both boys in the shower with me. They sit at the end of the shower and play with their toys. It is not as relaxing as a shower by myself, but it takes away the worry about leaving them alone while I shower and they get clean, too!

I hung a strap of jingle bells on each door. It warned me that the kids were playing near the door, and gave me a chance to get to them before they got out (my oldest started undoing the safety screen lock when he was about three years old). I hope my ideas help!

Tracey Cleary
Riverside CA USA

Response

Keeping our children safe is one of our most important and scariest jobs. Thinking about all the "what ifs" can make us want to keep them away from just about everything. The most helpful idea that I received regarding safety actually is the complete opposite of always standing by to protect them. The person who can best take care of a child's safety, who is always there to do it, is the child himself. Showing a baby how to go down stairs or a child how to use a sharp knife will protect him or her from accidents much more than putting up gates or keeping knives away. Gates will accidentally be left open and little hands will eventually find knives. Although it can be very hard for us to believe when we live in Western societies (especially in the USA), where the emphasis is more on controlling than on trust, babies do come with strong self-preservation instincts. They unfortunately become completely detached from them when we take over for them and teach them not to trust themselves.

Another idea that really helped me to get my children to cooperate and behave appropriately is to expect the best from them. I treat them as allies, not enemies, because I know they want to please me. If you truly expect the best from your children, you will treat them very differently than if you expect them to misbehave. For example you will say "I know that you will stay inside the apartment while I am showering" or "I know you will wait for me to be done showering before going outside" instead of "I don't want you guys to go outside when I'm in the shower." If you are interested in these ideas, read The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff, which is available in many LLL Group Libraries.

On a more practical level, I try to teach my children what things are used for, such as "eggs are for eating," and I give them appropriate alternatives. I love to admire and encourage my daughters' creativity. I do, however, sometimes have to put restrictions on what they use in the process. Because they know that I try to help them find solutions instead of only setting limits, they usually ask me before using something that isn't by definition a toy. Because I trust my children to want to do the right thing, most of the time they live up to my expectations or they learn from their mistakes.

Elaine Ste-Marie Proctor
Westmont IL USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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