by Heidi Green
June 05, 2012
I feel like I tell my child “no” constantly, to keep him from doing things that aren’t safe. How can I tell my curious toddler “no” but still allow him to explore his world?
You’re not the only parent who struggles with this. It’s a problem that can start in toddlerhood and continue throughout childhood. No one wants to be a helicopter parent. Children learn best by exploring (touching, tasting, testing) and experiencing cause-and-effect and consequences. But, let’s face it, every parent wants their little explorer to navigate through his world safely.
Your child is sure to reach the age of curiosity far before he gains impulse control. Here are a few tips that may help you give your curious toddler wings keeping the number of “No’s!” to a minimum:
- Childproof your home. You will feel more comfortable giving your pint-size explorer free reign if you are confident that the risks are low. Get down on your hands and knees to get a child’s-eye view of your home. Is the floor clear of coins, buttons, dust balls, and other chokeables? Are household cleaners locked up? Is furniture bolted to the walls to prevent tipovers? (More tips on childproofing your home are available here.)
- Examine your outdoor space. You’ll want to feel confident about your child’s safety outside as well as in. From storage of garden tools to placement of cushioning material under swing sets, you’ll want to make sure your child’s outdoor environment is safe.
- Whenever possible, be positive. When you do need to correct your child, remember to be “positive-negative-positive” for messages your child will hear—and heed. For example, if your child grabs a marker, you might say, “I know you want to color like the big kids, but not now. Let’s build with some blocks instead.”
- Be involved. It’s a sure thing that, sometimes, your child will be focused on a task you really don’t want them to do, like clambering along the back of the sofa or scaling a bookshelf. Instead of resorting to “no”—over and over again—you may need to intervene. Draw your child to a different activity you can both engage in (e.g., playing with a toy, building a puzzle, nursing) to help reset their focus.
- Be outdoors. Often, an overactive child is a high-energy child. If you’re tired of chasing your child around inside, heading outdoors—where there is more space for running and climbing—may be the perfect solution for you both. A word of caution: If you live in urban areas, be mindful that toddlers aren’t street smart. Until they learn where the sidewalk ends and the street begins, it’s best to play only in gated playgrounds and parks.
- Accept mistakes. Children (like all people) make mistakes. When this happens, you can involve them in the fix. Mistakes and messes are a natural side effect of exploration and learning. If you expect a mess, you will be less likely to trot out negative language when it happens.
- Save “No!” for safety. By all means, if you see your child reaching for a sharp object, don’t be afraid to yell “No!” As you scale back the use of “no” for less serious issues, the sound of it spoken clearly and firmly will be much more effective in those (hopefully) rare instances when you must use it for safety.
Dr. Sears’ website provides additional tips for saying “no” positively, while the Daily Montessori and Lifeways North America encourage readers to think carefully about the child’s environment to provide as many opportunities as possible for “Yes!”