Thursday, July 28, 2011

One Rule to a Happier Home

When my twin cousins were two, they went through a phase during which they were constantly making trouble. I babysat them two full days a week and was at a loss for how to curb their explorations. They weren't intentionally misbehaving, so correction wasn't the right answer. They were just coming up with new situations each day that I had never thought to tell them to avoid.

* Dropping pennies into the humidifier because it made a funny noise hitting the fan.
* Pulling all the beads off the curtain trim because they wanted to roll beads on the floor.
* Taking trash back out of the bag to pretend their dog had misbehaved.
* Gathering all the spoons and ladles into a pile on the table... for no apparent reason.

After a week or two, inspiration struck and a new rule was put in place: If it's not a toy, don't touch it without asking. We had a couple more incidents, but when I asked if the object was a toy, they said no and spontaneously apologized. They weren't trying to misbehave, they just didn't know any better.

Besides, they were way too cute to scold!

I love this rule. I've used it with small children and variations of it with older kids I've coached (i.e. If it's not your soccer ball, don't touch it). It's simple. It works. It doesn't prevent deliberate disobedience, but it makes life work more smoothly for everyone.

I'm starting to teach it to Peter. When he opens a kitchen cabinet or starts to pull our books off the shelves, I say, "Not a toy. Here are Peter's toys!" and cheerfully redirect him. He's too young to apply the rule himself, but he is starting to categorize his world into "toys" and "not-toys." Every little bit helps.

What rules have made your home happier?


  1. Very different approach at my house: If I don't want a kid to touch it, I put it away. The house is equally theirs and they can have/touch whatever they want (as long as it's safe.)

  2. That makes sense, too. We don't have anything Peter is not allowed to touch, but I want him to learn how to treat things. Taking books off shelf -- OK. Throwing books and bending covers -- not OK. It's a fine line. Thanks for an alternate perspective!