The Curious Child

Parent #1: My 20-month-old son likes to touch and explore everything. When I was in the kitchen he was always in there going into the cupboards pulling out my mixer, canned foods, anything he could get his hands on. So we have now gated both entries to the kitchen. He climbs everything and has no fear of anything.Parent #2: My daughter is very curious. When I ask her not to do something (keep away from my private drawers; stop taking apart toys; do not play with tools or electronics or valuables), she will either do it one more time or sneak into it behind my back. It seems like the more she is forbidden the more she wants to do/see, which worries me to death that she will carry on this attitude in her teens with sex and drugs. How can I teach her to respect others’ private possessions and also make her understand the dangers in being too curious?

These children have something in common insatiable curiosity. This is largely a matter of temperament. Some children are simply more active and curious than others. Often these are very intelligent children. They have a strong need to learn about everything by experience. If you have a child with high curiosity, the first step is to accept this about your child, and not try to make him be different.

If your child is an infant or toddler, you need to baby-proof your house. Have furniture which is sturdy enough to climb on. Plug up the electric sockets and put computers and electronic equipment where he can’t reach them. Put the breakable items in upper cupboards, and have stuff like plastic containers and canned food in the bottom ones, so your child can explore and play with them. Real-life things are much more interesting to most children than the fake-looking plastic items we call “toys.” Gates can be useful, but don’t lock your child out of the area where you are working or he will feel abandoned. Toddlers need to be near their parents.

Accept the mess. Kids make messes; it’s just part of being a kid. Their curiosity represents a desire to learn, and you don’t want to squash that. They will take things apart to learn how they’re made, and they don’t yet have the ability to put them back together again. Your children are more important than your perfect house.

Teach your child of any age about danger. You can use the word “Danger” to warn him about knives, electricity, and other things that could hurt him. Demonstrate what can happen by putting your finger near the socket or the knife near your arm, and yelling “Ow!” and pretending you’re hurt.

Teach your child about private property by letting her have possessions that no one else is allowed to touch without her permission, and giving her a place to store them. Then patiently explain each time she touches someone else’s property without permission that she wouldn’t want anyone doing this to her things. After some time, she’ll get it.

A school age child is old enough to have a consequence (confiscating an item) if he repeatedly touches things he isn’t allowed to touch. But before you do this, make sure there are plenty of things the child is allowed to touch and play with, including kitchen and garden tools. Young kids love to help and to try adult activities if you let them try to help when they’re little, they will enjoy doing chores when they’re older.

A child who explores in the preschool years won’t necessarily become a teenager who experiments with sex and drugs. But if your child has the kind of temperament which leads her to constantly investigate things, you need to educate her before she tries them. Educate your pre-teenager about sex, drugs, and any other dangers that are out there. She can be prepared for the wider world by learning from others’ experience, not just from her own.

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