As soon as your baby masters crawling and pulling herself up, you may begin wincing at the challenges that lie ahead. Baby’s mobile! At this stage, you may be inclined to clear away everything that lies in her path. Most parents fervently “baby-proof” their homes removing items from low tables and off the floor.
It’s hard to imagine that the picture frames, books and assorted items adorning coffee and end tables are actually some of the most interesting items in your baby’s line of vision. Your baby’s daily goal is to thoroughly explore all that is within her eyesight and grasp. Because the table is now at the perfect height for her to crawl over to and pull herself up on, she is set on exploring the new-found cornucopia of shiny objects, candles and magazines.
It is admittedly 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 freely in. You also want to prevent your baby from accidentally damaging any items within her reach. While removing everything from your tables and floors insures your favorite book will not become a teether, you might also be doing your child an injustice.
Your baby’s increasing mobility does not have to spell disaster for your household. Consider the many benefits of keeping some of the items accessible to your child. By using this stage as a valuable piece in her learning curve, you will eliminate the need to suddenly redecorate your home. Your child will also build the foundation to learn valuable life lessons.
Everything’s an Adventure
“Any new real-life experience is exciting to children,” says Laura Carr, director of The Compass School in Mason, adding that anything new — “which is everything!” — is appealing to a toddler’s innate sense of curiosity and wonderment.
Visiting a neighbor’s house creates an alluring opportunity of new discoveries for very young children. Although an unfamiliar room is quite appealing for babies to explore, it can become a stressful time for Mom and Dad. You’re faced with strictly supervising or restricting your child’s mobility to avoid an embarrassing or unpleasant disaster. At your house, there is nothing on the tables. The sudden exposure to this environment presents an appealing opportunity to explore. He’ll make a direct path for the things that are at his level and will not have the experience of knowing how to approach the situation. Young children instinctively use their senses of sight and touch to explore, says Carr. “In our classrooms, we provide children with real-life experiences and materials,” she says. This immediate gratification appeals to their curiosity and intent to explore all they see. Carr adds that leaving items available to children and refraining from constantly protecting them will help teach lessons in cause and effect and learning right from wrong. “It teaches respect and how to use items appropriately,” she says. When you encourage his ability to identify when it is appropriate to touch you help him develop self-control. Redirecting him from the situation — instead of removing the situation from him — aids in this developmental stage.
It is a natural instinct for a young child to want to examine and understand everything in front of him. It is possible to foster his curiosity without removing everything from his path. Encourage your baby to sit with you and help you hold the items from the table. Use phrases and words that reinforce his aptitude and stress the appropriate actions. “Look how you’re so gentle” instead of “No, no … don’t touch that” teaches your child you trust him and fosters his respect and inquisitive nature.
Carr advises parents to use a lot of one-on-one interaction, modeling and dialogue when introducing new items to children of a very young age. If showing your little one a picture frame, you can demonstrate how to handle it and explain things like who is in the picture, what the glass is and why it’s there. Carr says tots will pick up on visual cues, and your modeling of how to gently turn the pages of a book will show children how to handle items on their own.
If you know that your baby adores looking at a particular item, take a few minutes out of the day to sit quietly with him and the item. Hold your child’s hand as he passes it along the intricate edges of picture frames and ceramic objects. Feeling the grooves and different textures will stimulate his senses and appease his curiosity. Allowing children as young as 6 months old to help you hold the object of their fascination will develop not only their respect for the care of the item, but their motor coordination and self-esteem. Your child will delight at your willingness to allow him to examine holiday ornaments or decorative pieces and you will cherish the closeness shared while helping him 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. Your demonstration of how to care for fragile things will provide a positive example 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 him.
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. He will have learned how to address his innate curiosity. You will have enhanced your child’s independence and confidence as he matures. Your baby 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 him, he will adjust easier to a variety of surroundings. As he grows into a toddler and school aged child, he will know how to appreciate his surroundings without destroying them. He will be less likely to touch everything within his grasp outside of his home because he has been raised to respect the things inside his home.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.