• Play and Learn: 4 Ways to Deal with A Curious Toddler in the House
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  • It never fails: You take just a two-minute bathroom break, and by the time you’re done your toddler has emptied his toy box across the living-room floor, ripped your magazines to shreds, and somehow gotten into the crisper drawer of the fridge. “Toddlers learn by exploring their environment with all five senses,” says Alexis Clyde, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. Kids this age are particularly fascinated by how an object works and what happens when they bend, drop, or throw  it. While your child’s inquiries are normal, it’s no fun having your house constantly look like a wreck. We’ll help you contain the chaos  by controlling his behavior without suppressing his inquisitiveness.

    1. Curb your temper.
    It’s challenging to keep your cool while cleaning up your toddler’s third major mess of the past hour. But you need to try. “Think about why the behavior is occurring rather than how frustrated it makes you feel,” says Dr. Clyde. Keep reminding yourself that your child’s curiosity is beneficial for her intellectual development. Still feel your blood pressure rising? Close your eyes and count to ten or take a few deep breaths. If you have the option, hand the child-care (and cleanup) duties to your partner or another trusted adult while you take a breather.

    2. Childproof—again.
    Now that your toddler can walk  and climb, it’s time for another round of safety steps. “Get down on your hands and knees so you view your home from your child’s perspective,” suggests Kurt Klinepeter, M.D., associate professor of behavioral and developmental pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Check that the electrical outlets are covered and cabinets that contain poisons are locked up. Get lid locks for your toilets, keep oven doors closed, and avoid stocking the lower shelves of your fridge with liquids and breakable containers.

    Hide potential scribbling devices (pens, pencils, crayons, lipstick). Also take extra precautions  with electronics. Make sure your TV is anchored, get a shield for  the Blu-ray player, and store remotes out of sight. Don’t leave your cell-phone charger dangling. Your toddler is likely to pull on it, sending your phone crashing to the floor. Worse, he might put an unconnected cable into his mouth or wrap it around his neck. Finally, store jewelry and cherished, breakable items out of reach until your child is older.

    3. Distract her.
    Make your toddler’s short attention span work in your favor. If she’s pulling all the pillows and cushions off the couch, say “No” in a calm but firm voice. Briefly explain why  she shouldn’t do it (“We need those  so everyone can sit”). Then divert  her attention by taking out a favorite toy or book or by playing some music. Within moments your child will likely be engaged in the new activity. If she starts heading back to the couch, simply  sidetrack her with something else.

    4. Allow for “constructive” destruction.
    Go ahead and green-light messy or aggressive activities when you can. “These satisfy a toddler’s curiosity, give him practice using his fine motor skills, and help  him learn about cause and effect,” points out Richard So, M.D., a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s. If your kid has a habit  of ripping up books, give him a stack  of old newspapers to shred. Encourage him to play with blocks so he can build and knock them down to his heart’s content. Set up a fun  art project that won’t necessitate  a big cleanup. Spread a huge sheet of drawing paper on the floor, sit  him in the middle, and let him create a masterpiece with crayons or finger-paints. Or take him outside and supervise as he plays at a sand or water table (if you don’t have one,  use his old baby bathtub and toss in some plastic bowls and beach toys). Set limits for messy play: “It’s okay to play with these papers, but not  the ones on Daddy’s desk.” Always supervise your child closely, since  it will take time for him to pick  up on the boundaries you’ve set.

    This is an excerpt from Parents Magazine (September 2015). Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Subject to national and international intellectual property laws and treaties.  Parents © is a registered U.S. trademark of Meredith Corporation.

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