As soon as babies master crawling then pulling themselves up, parents wince at the challenge mobility brings.
At this stage, we are inclined to clear away everything that lies in a toddler’s path. Parents fervently “baby proof” their homes removing decorative items from the tables and off of the floor.
It may be hard to imagine that the picture frames, books and vases adorning your coffee table are actually some of the most interesting items in your toddler’s line of vision. Your child’s daily goal is to thoroughly explore all that is within eyesight and grasp. Because the table is now at the perfect height to crawl over to and pull up on, she is set on exploring the new-found cornucopia of shiny objects, candles and magazines.
It is difficult to resist the natural inclination to immediately clear off anything breakable or decorative and offer your child a clear playing surface. You want to provide a safe environment for your child to play in freely. You also want to prevent your baby from accidentally damaging any items within reach. While removing everything from tables and floors insures that favorite books won’t become teethers, you might also be doing your child an injustice: your child will not have the chance to begin developing her self-control. She will also not know how to appreciate and respect “special” and fragile items.
Your child’s increasing mobility does not have to spell disaster for your household. Consider the many benefits to keeping some of the items accessible to your toddler. By using this stage as a valuable time in her learning curve, you will eliminate the need to suddenly redecorate your home. Your child will also build a foundation for learning valuable life lessons. No parent wants their child to break something while visiting a friend or relative’s home. However, the world is not baby-proof, and children who have been raised in a world free of tempting objects will not know how to behave when visiting someone else’s house.
Everything Is an Adventure
To a young child, every new or different location is another prospective adventure. Visiting a neighbor’s house creates an alluring opportunity for new discoveries. Although an unfamiliar room is quite appealing to explore, it can become stressful for parents. You’re faced with strictly supervising or restricting mobility to avoid a disaster.
When you remove items from your child’s reach at your own house, your child will not realize she is not allowed to cruise around Great Grandma’s living room coffee table and pick up all the trinkets in reach. The sudden exposure to such an environment presents an appealing opportunity for adventure. She’ll make a direct path for the things that are at her level and will not have the experience of knowing how to approach the situation.
Young children instinctively use their senses of sight and touch. Immediate gratification appeals to their curiosity and intention to explore all they see. When you encourage her ability to identify when it is appropriate to touch you help her develop self-control. Redirecting her from the situation – instead of removing the situation from her – aids in this developmental stage.
Friends and relatives you visit will find it refreshing that your child knows there are limits and boundaries. These children are happy to have a brief “viewing” of what is on the table and then they go on to play with other children or a favorite toy. They can project a clear level of respect for others’ belongings and a good understanding of the concept of self-control.
The natural instinct for a toddler to examine and understand everything in front of her can be built on. Foster this curiosity without removing everything from her path. Encourage your child to sit with you and help you hold the items on the table. Use phrases and words that reinforce her aptitude, and stress the appropriate actions. “Look how you’re so gentle” instead of “No, no – don’t touch that,” which teaches your child you trust her and respect her inquisitive nature.
If you know that your baby adores looking at a particular item, take a few minutes out of the day to sit quietly with her and the item. Hold your child’s hand as she passes a finger along the intricate edges of picture frames and ceramic objects. Feeling the grooves and different textures will stimulate her senses and appease her curiosity.
While you’re teaching your child how to evaluate what’s before her, you are also teaching respect. Allowing a child as young as 6 months old to help you hold the object of her fascination will develop not only respect for the care of the item, but motor coordination and self-esteem.
Your child will delight at your willingness to allow her to examine holiday ornaments or decorative pieces, and you will cherish the closeness shared while helping her learn how to handle the items. Explain the origin of the special vase or who the people are in the picture your toddler loves to take off the table in the hall. Children begin to understand and process language at very early ages, and will appreciate your efforts. Your demonstration of how to care for fragile things will provide positive examples for your child to follow.
Of course, if your child is set on touching something that is irreplaceable or potentially harmful, then you must use age-appropriate caution when introducing these things to her. Perhaps remove something invaluable, and replace it with a less expensive item for her to admire.
Over time, the fascination with the vase full of flowers will subside, and your child will no longer pay attention to the items on your tables. She will have learned how to address his innate curiosity.
Enhance your child’s independence and confidence as he matures. Your toddler will become aware of how to appreciate the things you both cherish. When a child is raised with a cautious and respectful understanding of how to investigate what interests her, she will adjust easier to a variety of surroundings. She will be less likely to touch everything within her grasp outside of her home because she has been raised to respect the things inside her own home.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer and licensed clinical social worker.
Things to Remember
By teaching a child respect for precious items, you’re also teaching her valuable developmental lessons such as:
- using caution and respect for others’ possessions
- self-control and trust
- recognition of limits and boundaries