Childproofing (Or How To Stunt the Development of Self-Control)

I am currently reading John Rosemond’s Making the Terrible Twos Terrific and was really surprised when I read his opinion on childproofing. Rosemond believes you should “childproof as much of the house as possible in order to open it to you child’s explorations.” This really surprised me because Rosemond is typically a traditionalist when it comes to parenting. His whole theory is founded on the way child-rearing was done prior to the 1960s. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there was much childproofing going on in homes three generations ago. Childproof lids weren’t invented until 1967. Childlock on car doors didn’t show up until the 1980s and you’d be hard pressed to find any 1960s home with a toilet lock on it. I just have a hard time believing the traditional mothers central to his parenting model childproofed their houses.

To me, it seems that childproofing sets a bad precedent for toddlers. By removing everything that they are not allowed to touch from their environment, you are essentially teaching them that anything left in their environment is free game. This strategy fails to teach the concept that not everything that is accessible is permissible. A toddler in a child proofed home can assume that a locked cabinet is off limits, but an unlocked cabinet is free to be rummaged through. A locked door is off limits, but an open door is free to be explored.This may work out fine when the child remains at home in their controlled environment, but it doesn’t prepare them for situations outside the home.

For the most part, our house is not childproofed. There are items in every room that my kids are not allowed to touch because they’re not intended for playing, they’re not safe for playing, or even because I just don’t like them played with. And for the most part, my kids do not touch those items. It’s not that they are ultra mature or even obedient by nature. It’s because they’ve tested me over and over again and the answer is always the same: NO TOUCHING.

When we leave our home, the untouchable items are different, but the overarching principles are the same:

First, not all items that are accessible to you are permissible to touch, and second, when I say no touching, I expect obedience.

For example, last week I had to take my kids with me to Urgent Care. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an emergency or urgent care room with a kid before, but it’s a total landmine. There was a wall mounted defibrillator and bio hazardous waste disposal within arms reach. The cabinets weren’t locked and the hospital bed was practically a Disneyland ride. This room could have been a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t. I told my kids that nothing on the walls was for touching and surprise! they didn’t touch. Simple as that. It’s not that I have angel children – I TOTALLY DON’T – and it’s not because either of them understood the reasons I had for not wanting them to touch anything – THEY DIDN’T – it’s because we’ve practiced restraint in not touching or opening or playing with certain things literally THOUSANDS of times at home.

My kids’ pediatrician is big on childproofing. He asks me at every well check visit if our house is childproofed. Then toward the end of the appointment he tells me how well behaved my kids are and how amazing it is that they sit down and keep their hands to themselves rather than touching or playing with everything in the room. Well why do you think that is, doc? It’s specifically because our home is NOT childproofed. They’ve learned the concept that not everything that’s within reach is for touching, and when I say “don’t touch”, I mean it.

The principle translates to obedience in all kinds of situations outside the home: no playing with Mimi’s international doll collection, no touching the fruit at the grocery store, no exploring the different rooms in a friend’s home, and no opening cabinets at doctor’s offices. All of these things are accessible but not allowable.

With all things, there are exceptions.

A few EXCEPTIONS to not childproofing:

>>Items with intrinsic value
It’s annoying, but kids learn obedience by disobeying. In the process of teaching your child to NOT touch certain items, they will touch plenty of off-limit items. I don’t leave my photo albums or my wedding ring on the coffee table with a 1 year old around because if they happened to test my seriousness by ripping the pages out of the album or flushing my ring down the toilet, I would be devastated. Put irreplaceable items with intrinsic value out of sight.

>>Sources of major frustration
As with all aspects of parenting, nothing is absolute. There is always a need for balance. If there is one particular item that continues to be a problem, remove it.

When Vera was 18 months she developed an affinity for excessive outfit changes. Honestly I don’t care if she wants to wear 10 different shirts a day – but I couldn’t deal with the mess on the floor. I tried multiple ways of discouraging her from getting into her closet, but it only left me exhausted and defeated. After battling this for a month, I gave up and just removed all the clothes from her closet. I kept them in my closet for over a year. When I finally put them back, she was old enough to hang and put away her own clothes, so the outfit changes were no longer an issue.

You obviously can’t do this with every item (that’s called child proofing) but it’s absolutely OKAY to remove items that are a particular source of frustration.

>>Safety hazards
This probably goes without saying, but don’t keep your prescription medicine under the bathroom sink or your kitchen knives in a low drawer with a 10 month old around. These are not the items you want them testing you with.

I don’t at all mean to give the perception that my kids are perfectly behaved and they never touch anything they aren’t supposed to. Just yesterday I found Vera in my closet trying on MY clothes. Like any kids, my kids disobey, get into things, and test me over and over again. That’s EXACTLY why our house shouldn’t be childproofed. If I expect them to show self-control outside the home, they need TONS of practice within the home. Better they learn not to touch a breakable item in my house than in someone else’s!

I really do believe that kids can learn at a very early age that some items are for playing and others aren’t. Childproofing stunts the development of that self-control. And besides, Mr. Rosemond, my grandma didn’t child proof.

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