Babyproofing? Keep some breakables to spur development, teach restraint

As soon as babies master crawling and pulling themselves up, parents face the challenges of mobility. Most parents are inclined to babyproof their homes, removing all breakables from the tables and the floor.

The remove-it-or-lose-it philosophy will ensure your favorite book does not become a teething ring. But some parents and caregivers think it is better to teach young children about “off-limit” items, which will help a child develop self-control.

“Parents should consider the many benefits to keeping some of the items accessible to their children,” says Diana Derby, a child advocate specialist who lives in Crystal Lake.

The picture frames, books and vases on the coffee table are some of the most interesting items in the baby’s line of vision. The table is at the perfect height to pull himself up on, and he or she is enticed by the shiny objects, candles and magazines.

Clearing off everything breakable and decorative is a natural inclination because it offers your child a safe playing surface-safe for the baby and for your possessions. But if you keep some of those precious items around and take time to teach your child, he will begin learning a valuable life lesson that will serve him well next time you’re away from home.

Nervous visitors

Every parent fears the potential nightmare of their child breaking something while visiting a friend or relative’s home.

“I remember being nervous when visiting a friend’s house, especially if they didn’t have children,” recalls Derby, the mother of four children. The world is not baby proof, and children raised in a world free of “off-limits” objects expect everyone’s home to offer the same environment.

Every new location is another prospective adventure for baby-and potential source of stress for parents who are faced with strictly supervising or restricting their baby’s mobility to avoid a disaster. To cope, many parents simply opt for the clean sweep.

Terri Curran of Arlington Heights shares the popular opinion that prevention is the best defense. She was horrified when Tiara, her 14-month-old daughter, cleared off her grandmother’s coffee table. “She swept everything, including an antique ashtray, onto the floor. If only I would have just removed everything from the table.”

But while eliminating temptation will preserve your possessions, reduce your stress and lessen the potential for disaster, it also presents some drawbacks. If your baby lives in a world where valuables are out of reach, he or she will not realize that cruising around great-grandma’s coffee table and picking up all the trinkets is a no-no. And pick them up they will. Children are unable to resist exploring new environments.

Unless they have been taught to cautiously admire, but not touch, certain treasures, young children instinctively use their senses of sight and touch. When parents help their children learn when it is appropriate to touch they help the children develop self-control.

“It’s easy to identify when a child lives in an environment that’s been thoroughly baby-proofed,” says Liz Ryan, owner of a licensed home daycare center in Crystal Lake. “They don’t understand that every surface is not for playing or coloring on. They expect that everywhere they go there will be a clear surface to play.”

Avoiding disaster

Redirecting children from the situation – instead of removing the situation from them – aids in this developmental stage. Allow your child a brief moment to satisfy his or her curiosity and divert his or her attention to an acceptable toy. Give your child a chance to look without assuming the child is going to break something.

Caregivers such as Ryan find it refreshing when a child understands boundaries. “They project a clear level of respect for others’ belongings and a good understanding of the concept of self-control,” adds Ryan.

Nurse Danielle Foster of Wheaton says it is possible to foster a child’s curiosity safely. Encourage your baby to sit with you and help you hold the items from the table. Use phrases and words that reinforce the appropriate actions. “Look how you’re so gentle,” instead of “No, no . . . don’t touch that,” teaches your child you trust them, fosters respect and encourages inquisitiveness.

If you know that your baby adores looking at a particular item, take a few minutes out of the day to sit quietly and hold your child’s hand as he or she touches the object. Feeling the grooves and different textures will stimulate your child’s senses and appease his or her curiosity. While you’re teaching your child how to evaluate an item you are also teaching your child how to respect it. 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 item, but their motor coordination and self-esteem.

Your child will delight at your willingness to allow him or her to examine holiday ornaments or decorative pieces, and you will cherish the closeness shared while teaching your child how to handle the items. Explain the origin of the special vase or identify the people in the picture your toddler loves to examine.

Children begin to understand and process language at very early ages and will appreciate it. Your demonstration of how to care for fragile things will provide a positive example for your child.

Of course, if the object of your child’s desire is an irreplaceable heirloom, you might want go back to the “remove it or lose it” rule and offer a less precious item instead.

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