Teaching Boundaries to a 2 year old - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 08-02-2013, 04:22 AM - Thread Starter
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DS turned 2 in april and I'm expecting our next baby in September.  I interact and play with him extensively throughout the day and also encourage playing alone in our dining/family room while I'm in the kitchen or another room.  We have a long bar I can peer over and see what he is doing.  He takes the chair from the dinner table and slides it over to the bar so that he can climb on the bar and take whatever he wants.  Other than this, he is generally pretty safe to be unsupervised for little chunks of time.  


I know that realistically the only solution to handling the danger of him getting on the bar and falling or taking something off the bar that could be dangerous for him is prevention and supervision, but I also feel it is time he learned consequences and boundaries.  It's not realistic for me to secure the bar 100% and this is a safety concern.  One time when DH was watching him he managed to get on top of the bar and could have crawled into the kitchen and/or fell off the bar.


First of all, I try to make sure he isn't bored or not getting enough redirection. But ultimately, every few days, he will try to move the chair over to the bar.  I tell him he is not supposed to move the chair over to the bar, advise him to stop moving the chair, and usually he listens the first time and we go about our business.  But the other half of the time he grins and moves the chair anyways, while I stand there and tell him to stop. 


This is when I start my warning and tell him that he is not supposed to do it and that if he does it he will go into his crib.  He knows what this means and stops most of the time.  When he doesn't, I come over and put him in the crib.  He starts of with crying and saying "no crib!".  I feel terrible, but I put him in anyways and quickly explain why he is in the crib then I walk away from 30-60 seconds. During this time he is upset and I'm upset.  Then I come back and again explain to him that he should not move the chair over to the bar, ask him to say sorry and give me a huggie, which he does (heartbreaking). Then I put him back by the bar and tell him to move the chair back over to the table, which he does, then we find another activity to play and I go back to the kitchen assuming he isn't bored.  


He generally does not try to do it again unless he thinks I won't see him, but I always catch him moving the chair and come in.  


My inlaws are visiting and don't approve of timeouts.  They are from India and can't understand why it's even necessary.  I don't have child nannies, cooks, and housekeepers, so I have to do things to teach my son boundaries, unlike what happens in India for them.  I have barely slept wondering if I am doing something wrong.


I would love any informed input.  Thanks.

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#2 of 11 Old 08-05-2013, 10:16 PM
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You are not doing anything wrong. It sounds like you are being so wonderful and attentive. I do similar time-outs. You also sounds very patient. Don't let the in laws tell you what to do. They are the ones visiting! It's your turf. Or perhaps they would like to hire a nanny for you and take care of her payment. But don't say that to them, just smile and do your thing. They will catch on and stop commenting so inappropriately. And why aren't they watching the little one? One would think there is enough adults around for that so mama can get a break!

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#3 of 11 Old 08-06-2013, 06:49 AM
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Can you try to figure out his motivation and then mimic it with a safer alternative? Is he trying to see you, does he just like to climb, or enjoy the feeling of pushing something large? At his age, I'm sorry to say, the time-outs will likely not prevent the behavior because impulse control is so poor.

Try not to get upset about it when he defies you and you have to put him in the crib. It is such normal behavior and is not a failure of your parenting at all. Two year olds are just like that smile.gif
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#4 of 11 Old 08-06-2013, 02:34 PM
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My DD LOVES to climb.  And she had discovered around 17 or 18mos that she could climb on top of the storage bench under our bay window in the living room to get up into the window to play with the blinds.  I must have spent an entire week, 24/7 removing her, distracting her, redirecting her, telling her "no" (more so to touching the cords on the blinds) and putting her in her crib, until one day I had enough.  I had removed her 3x in less than 5min and I stepped out onto the deck to hang her diapers and I heard the *THUD* followed by silence.  I knew she had fallen and I knew the silence was her initial cry and once she starts to get red she ill finally inhale and yell, which happened right as I was walking into the room.  I didn't panic, I know enough (DH is an EMT) to know the height wasn't that bad and if I panicked it would only make her cry more.  I simply scooped her up, let her cry it out on my lap (all of a bot 30seconds) and then she asked to comfort nurse, she did, and once it was all over, I looked at her and said very plainly, "you got a booboo from climbing up there, don't do it again".  And she hasn't even tried.  She's 21 mos and all I have to do is ask her "what will happen if you do that" and she tells me "booboo" and walks away.  Sometimes natural consequences will sting a bit, but you learn more from experience than you do from words.

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#5 of 11 Old 08-12-2013, 09:40 AM
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I'm with Sassyfirechick.  My son has survived to the age of 8 1/2 despite being allowed to climb where HE feels safe.  Since infancy he's been able to do some things I didn't think he could do, but he's also shown caution in many dangerous situations.  It's taken very few actual falls or other injuries to teach him the limits of safety.


One time when DH was watching him he managed to get on top of the bar and could have crawled into the kitchen and/or fell off the bar.

Could have.  Didn't.  At 2 years 4 months he's been walking for over a year and crawling for longer than that, I'd guess.  Why do you think he doesn't know how to crawl on a surface without crawling off the edge?  Has he often fallen off furniture, playgrounds, etc.?  I know that individual children vary in their balance of caution vs. daredevil aspirations, so I'm not assuming every toddler is like mine was--but I think it's important to think about the abilities your son has shown so far, instead of assuming he has no sense at all about his own safety.


Think about what really would happen if he fell from the bar.  Would he land on carpet?  Are there a lot of sharp edges where he could hit his head?  Maybe the danger is low enough that you could risk it happening once so he could learn, as Sassyfirechick's daughter did.  Maybe you could reduce the risks by moving other furniture, etc.


As for getting into the kitchen: We put our most dangerous items in very high places inaccessible to our son until he was 6 and we were sure he wouldn't misuse them.  Then we encouraged his involvement in the kitchen and did lots of talking about how we do things safely.  I remember him sitting in the high chair watching intently as I chopped vegetables and said, "The knife is sharp, so I have to keep my fingers out from under it.  I hold the carrot so that the knife cuts the carrot, not my finger."  When he saw me accidentally cut myself once, that's the first time he said the word "sharp" and I could see he understood what had happened, although I explained to reinforce it.  Around 18 months we started letting him stand on a chair right next to the counter and "help" with some of the food prep, gradually allowing a wider range of tasks as he seemed able.  The first time he ever handled a sharp knife (paring knife) it was very clear that he knew how to hold and use it, from watching us.  So I suggest making your kitchen somewhat childproof while encouraging your son's attention to the safety rules you follow.


He generally does not try to do it again unless he thinks I won't see him, but I always catch him moving the chair and come in.

This is a clue that moving the chair is filling some sort of need for him; he keeps feeling this need and trying to satisfy it.  It's also a clue that what he is learning is not that leaving the chair in place and staying on the floor is a sensible rule that benefits him and should be followed all the time, but that Mama does not like him moving the chair so he must not move the chair when Mama is looking.  When you have the distractions of a new baby, you're going to need your son to operate safely on his own more, not depending on your intervention.  Of course you won't be able to get that working perfectly because he's only 2, but when you have situations like this where he is repeatedly attempting a behavior unless you intervene, it's important to think about WHY he is doing it and whether it is a behavior that really needs to be stopped.


All this said--there are some boundaries kids need to learn because their parents need them to observe those boundaries, regardless of whether safety or other concerns could be addressed a different way.  If you need this for yourself, then it's fine to keep insisting on it; you are allowed to have some things that are just "house rules" because it's your house and these particular boundaries are important to you.  If that's the case, I think you may need to secure the chairs in some way, block the bar so that he can't get a chair next to it, or otherwise make this behavior more difficult so that he won't be able to do it while you're changing baby's diaper.  Maybe there is someplace else he could climb that would satisfy the same urge.  My baby brother arrived when I was exactly that age, and once he began creeping I liked to get up on furniture to play so that he couldn't grab my toys or drool on my leg!

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#6 of 11 Old 08-12-2013, 11:39 AM
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What great thinking on this thread. We could look at this as a boundary or as an opportunity to set limits. What a great, adventurous and physically confident son you have! At two, he's deep into exploring and learning about his world, yet you do have the job of keeping him safe.  It's a tangle.  Create enough freedom to let him explore and grow, and keep him safe all the while.


He's likely learned already that climbing is not OK with you and is signaling that he needs you to come in and set limits. A child who does the same wacky behavior over and over has his good thinking off line and needs parental support to restore it. This is not the usual way of thinking about children, but what he is looking for is more connection. A child who feels warm and connected is able to think well and make good decisions, like sticking to the limits of not climbing on the bar. One who is feeling disconnected longs for the connection to be restored and will signal over and over to reconnect. 


A balance between friendly play and setting limits and a means for deepening your connection with him is setting a time where under your close supervision he is allowed to climb, and setting limits the rest of the time. That could look like telling him, "sweetie for the next five minutes (set a timer) I'll be here while you climb." Then delight in his ability to climb, telling him how great he is, smiling and being generally glad, spotting him all the while as needed. When the timer goes off, tell him "climbing time is over." Remove him if needed. He'll likely go back and try to climb again. You stand guard and gently but firmly tell him that climbing time is over, putting a hand on his chest to stop him from climbing if needed. Should he have a tantrum or cry that's a very good sign. Sit with him and listen to him. The frustration he expresses is the emotional energy driving his behavior and once he has a chance to release those emotions in your warm, loving presence, he'll lose the urge to climb. 


He can learn the difference between OK climbing with you present and not OK climbing when you are not present. Or where it is OK to climb, say at the park, and not OK to climb, like the chandelier.


This may take a few times, but as he lets out the emotions that have his good thinking stuck, he'll be in a much better position adhere to the boundary. And through the process of playing and listening to him as he has an emotional release, you have deepened your connection even more.


Hope this helps,


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#7 of 11 Old 08-13-2013, 03:40 PM
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My almost 3 year old DD has had boundary/climbing/grabbing issues since she was 11 months old. Just last night my husband and I were talking about how it's -still- an issue and boy are we tired of it while at the same time actually rather proud of how cool she is. And adventurous. My DD can't stop climbing, pulling chairs, grabbing, etc and it all stems to the fact that she wants to do what the adults are doing. That and we think she doesn't understand consequences. Not the "time out" type but the "If this then that" type. Since she has been SO big and SO mobile since a very young age, we'd had to protect her from herself..... and so she's grown up with so many warnings and explanations of what's wrong and why, she has them ALL memorized... but it's not sticking in the form of comprehension. We actually don't know what to do - we keep waiting for her to get older, and that is kinda working, but she's still just off the hook most times. Very controlled, never tantrums, has empathy and compassion like crazy, calm child, just... can't stop climbing, can't stop grabbing, and can't stop pulling chairs and getting into things.

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#8 of 11 Old 08-14-2013, 06:37 AM
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It sounds like you're doing just fine.  Consistency is the key.  Maybe when you bring him to his play area, remind him what happens when he climbs.  Sometimes they just need to be reminded.  I know its hard to do unpleasant things to correct your child, but you'd feel worse if he broke his neck.

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#9 of 11 Old 08-15-2013, 05:06 AM
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I think you ahve a good routine down. He needs to know that you will be there to protect him by disciplining him every time.  I swear mine does things just because she wants me know that I still care enough to drop what I am doing when she is in trouble.  Only children and people with lots of help can get away without teaching kids boundaries or o obey the first time... but its not necessarily better for the kid.

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#10 of 11 Old 08-15-2013, 05:34 AM
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My son is almost 3yr old. It's just been the two of us for so long now his behavior with me is really bad and I can't get a handle on it. I'm trying to get help for my own anxiety and depression and don't want my precious boy to suffer one bit because of me. We are alone most of the time. I could just use some advice-anything:(
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#11 of 11 Old 08-15-2013, 01:12 PM
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Mary Alice, hug.gif it's definitely important to get help for your mental health.  That should help your son, and your relationship with him, as well.


Do you find it hard being alone with him?  When you do go out in public, does his behavior tend to be better or worse?  My son since he was a few WEEKS old has been calmer and nicer in public than he sometimes is in private--but some kids are the other way around.  If you find that things go better between you when you're out, try to get out more, even if it's just a walk around the block or trip to the playground.


I'm not sure what specifically you're looking for advice about, but there's lots of help to be found here!  Look around.  Start a thread about some of your specific problems.  You could also look on my blog (click my name and "view profile" and it has a link) where I have a lot of articles about what worked with my son when he was a toddler and preschooler.

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