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HomeFamilyParenting AdviceThe Competent Parent: Toddler Proofing

The Competent Parent: Toddler Proofing

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Toddler Proofing

Dear Dr. Wood,


I’m dreading an upcoming visit to see my husband’s parents. The last time we were there our baby was a sweet, passive four month old. Now he’s a sixteen-month-old moving machine seemingly set on a path of destruction. We’ve adjusted our home accordingly—his toys take up most of the living room floor which is gated off from the kitchen/dining room. Couch cushions, blankets, empty boxes, laundry baskets, etc. also go on the floor for him to play with. He’s really a lot of fun, and since he’s our first child, we’re really enjoying his curiosity and discoveries. He likes board books, but once got hold of a library book and ripped a page out. Lesson learned—if we can’t afford to replace it, don’t let him touch it. We have moved video game equipment and other “no-no’s” out of his reach.

I just can’t picture any of us having a nice visit considering the expensive furniture, framed photos, potted plants, and fragile knickknacks at the in-laws’. Any advice?

Bam Bam’s Mom

Dear Mrs. Rubble,

There’s a tradeoff between child proofing and supervision. The more your home has been made to accommodate your toddler, the less carefully you need to watch his every move. He’s safe to play with the things you have left in his reach. In contrast, the setting you describe at his grandparents’ home will require one vigilant adult to focus on Bam Bam’s actions, even anticipating moves before they occur. Check with your hosts about the baby’s exploration of things that would interest him, such as coasters or unbreakable bowls from the kitchen. If he goes for the potted plant—make sure this is okay—help him gently touch the leaves. If he reaches for a china figurine, hold it securely while you quiz him to touch the nose, eyes, ears and mouth. The fine art of guided distraction will prevent destruction.

If you bring along some playthings, this might occupy him contentedly for some of the time.

He will probably enjoy climbing up (and maybe down) stairs with a parent just below him. Or he might be happy to toddle through or to be carried through all the rooms of the house. Daddy might be the perfect tour guide if this was his home as a child. The stroller might be appropriate to break up too-long a confinement in a (frustrating for everyone) non-child-proofed space. Maybe there’s a park or playground near by.

These grandparents—who presumably were once parents of a toddler—might just surprise you by readying their home ahead of time, or making quick adjustments so they, too, can enjoy the time with all of you.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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