The issues of being responsible and sharing are both based on the idea that someone owns the stuff. We look after the things that we own – it is from this premise that we teach chores. We also share the things we own. I can’t go into your house and just use your stuff – that isn’t sharing, sharing comes from you and you invite me to use something or have something. Setting the boundaries that stuff belongs to people is something that a toddler can understand.
One of the first things that I taught my children, once they started to move was, “no, don’t touch”. They would wiggle over the floor and the bookcase and TV cabinet were the two most fascinating objects in our house, apparently! Those things weren’t theirs to touch, they were mine, and I didn’t want them to have them. This is the freedom we have when we own the stuff!
Another thing that was out of bounds with my children (and now Toddler) is my jewellery. Necklaces are just there – they are pretty colours, and mine were chunky – just right for little fingers. But they are mine, and I didn’t want them to be touched or yanked. So I taught my children to leave them alone.
Once they knew these limitations they were okay with it. Our kids don’t need to have access to everything, and neither do we need to remove everything. My house has grown with our children so adding Toddler to our lives people expected me to rearrange the house. I didn’t have to – she had been taught from an early age not to touch. Not to say that she never touches things, but she is responsive to our instruction and I believe this is because it started early, and expectations were consistent.
I think another thing that helped in her training was that she was limited to certain rooms or rather certain rooms were off limits. We initially taught her not to go into the kitchen and the office. It is tricky to make room distinctions in an open plan house so we used some duct tape* on the floor. When she started crawling we sat her down, patted the tape, and told her ‘stop’. Whenever she crawled over the line, we would pick her up, carry her back to the right side, sit down on the floor – pat the line and say stop. We’d give her one more go – and after we had to give this instruction a second time, we would move her further away. Yes, we had to repeat this many times, but she knew not to go across that duct-tape-line within 2-3 weeks of training. That isn’t a long time, for a toddler-hood of safety – knowing she won’t go in the kitchen.
We taped off the office and the kids bedrooms as well. She is allowed in any of these rooms when she is with someone, but not by herself. Having these limitations along with directed activities in her day, reduces how much stuff she can get to in the first place. There are still plenty of places she likes to roam and discover – the loungeroom and laundry are Toddler’s favourites (she likes to watch the washing go round and round in the machine!).
Another aspect of teaching our little ones to respect the property of others is not to give them things to play with that aren’t toys – keys, TV remotes, coasters from the table. When our little ones are on our lap we often reach for the first thing that we think of to keep them occupied – then later on we are going to tell them not to play with such an item. This is sending mixed messages. This often happens at someone’s house, you may not be fussed if they chew on your coasters, but you don’t want them to chew on your friend’s. But really coasters aren’t for chewing on! It is much easier in the long run to always have a bag of toys with you so they start to learn what is appropriate to play with and what is not.
Toddlers need to learn to be careful with books, before they have the freedom of looking at any book, they need to learn to look at pretty things and not touch, they need to learn to ask for things instead of just taking them. They need to learn that not everything is theirs. Often parents don’t want to teach their kids not to touch – they feel like they need the freedom to explore and discover – and yet they then spend their day running after their little cleaning up one mess after the next. Yes, our children do need to learn to explore and discover but in an age appropriate environment and always respecting that stuff belongs to someone!
You can see the rest of my Living with a Toddler for 31 days series here.
Or find more 31 day series here.