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The Competent Parent: Water everywhere

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

Water, Water Everywhere

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My three and 4-year-old sons are hose crazy. We have hoses connected to two outside faucets at our house and they are constantly running them – spraying each other, making puddles to dance in, no matter if they are clothed or stripped (which they often are on warm days). If I have to run inside I have them turn the hoses off – no telling what they’d do if I weren’t watching! – but they are now strong enough to turn them back on as soon as I am out of sight.

How can I get this under control?

All Wet Mom


Dear Mom,

A simple strategy for controlling the behavior of preschoolers is to child proof. Make the “no nos” physically impossible for them to do. Now that they are strong enough to turn the faucet handle, you’ll have to turn off the line supplying water if you don’t want them to use hoses when you’re not there. (This should be accessible to you from inside the house.)

Child proofing is a strategy that you can apply throughout your parenting career. I recall a tv judge admonishing a defendant whose underage son had had taken her truck without her permission and driven through the neighbor’s hedges. Several times. “Where do you keep the keys?” he asked the mother. She sheepishly replied, “On a nail by the front door.”

At every age there are temptations to lure children into misbehavior. Infants put things in their mouths. This is their best means of learning about the physical aspects of metal, wood, plastic, paper, fabric, and of course, food. The adult can prevent the wrong items from getting in the baby’s mouth simply by keeping them out of the baby’s reach. Teens are flirting with danger as they try to impress one another and test their own limits. And, much like preschoolers, teens often like to believe they are perfectly fine without a grown up.

With your preschool boys, a water hose is a great temptation. Sigmund Freud would categorize this as age appropriate behavior. Typically between the ages of 2 and 5, children are strongly identifying with one sex or the other. Boys become fascinated with penises, and anything remotely resembling them – guns, swords, rockets, sticks, hoses. I imagine your concerns with your sons’ water play are that they might annoy each other, mess up your landscaping, and or track mud into the house. Setting limits with preschoolers only carries as much weight as you are able to throw around – figuratively speaking! Consistent enforcement is key. Children are much better able to follow your rules if it would be impossible for them to break them. So, help them enjoy their free-spirited hose play under your watchful eye and secure the water flow when you can no longer supervise them. You can remind them of your reasons as you head into the house.

Dr. Debbie

Don’t miss last week’s advice about getting teens to do chores.

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“>editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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