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Happy Fingers at the Holidays

Posted by on in Parenting
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Anyone else having trouble getting your toddlers to not touch holiday breakables, power cords, Christmas trees and the like?

Small children (under 3 years old) don’t know their own strength. And they often drop things. But, as we all know, if such things break they could cut them. This becomes a safety issue. How can we protect our wee ones? Here are some very practical suggestions.

The first step is to move things up beyond the reach of the child. This changes when a crawler becomes a walker, who then becomes a climber. So get things out of reach and keep them out of reach.

Second, if you can’t get the item up higher, try blocking it with something else such as furniture. It needs to be something big enough that the breakable item is out of sight. It is important to note that children who have reached full object permanence (that is, the ability to remember that something still exists even if they cannot see it) will keep looking tenaciously for the item if that fits with their personality.

Third, at some point we’re going to need to teach our child that there are things that are “no touch”. Two things are helpful to remember. We do not want to create a negative environment, where “no” is constantly resounding. What is more, keeping the word “no” for danger helps it carry still more power.

Fourth, in place of “no” young children can often be redirected to a different activity quite easily. Keep in mind that some children do have that ability to fixate on something, so it may take more diligent watching to ensure these children have truly moved on to the next activity.

Fifth, in place of actually touching the item you can try a replacement behavior. The child could point to the item, clap for it, whatever is fun to do instead of going to grab it. A sixteen month old in our family was on a hunt for power cords and breakables. She was taught that she could wave to the item as a replacement behavior for touching it. She was satisfied with merely being friendly toward the cords and stopped trying to grab them. Whatever the replacement behavior is, make sure it is a fun action that the child enjoys doing and already understands what it means. (For instance, my niece clearly knows that when she waves at people that does not mean they are breakable or dangerous.)

As another type of replacement behavior, and for children who are already learning what it means to be gentle, you can teach the one-finger touch in place of a firm grab. Take down the item and hold it while they do a one finger touch and then put it back up high.

Setting up an environment for safety and safe learning is essential for toddlers. It keeps the child safe, and it keeps the items from breaking. Be sure to keep some things within reach that are okay for them to learn to touch gently. It is in your power to choose what objects will be safest for your child to learn the art of gentleness.

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