Control the Situation Not the Child

Little Suzy reaches out to grab Grandma’s favorite heirloom vase. In a split second you grab little Suzy’s hand and say, “No”. Little Suzy starts to cry and protest.

From toddlers to teens, it is a child’s job to explore their world. Exploring is part of an innate development drive that helps children become competent adults. In other words, children need to have these “hands-on” experiences. So what is a parent to do when they want to keep their child and the environment safe? Control the situation and not the child.

Another option with little Suzy would have been to move the vase to a safe place before anything could have happened. This isn’t always possible, especially when we are in a new place, but it is possible in our own homes. We can also be mindful when we go to a new place to look around for anything that might present a problem and deal with it before it becomes a problem.

Another option would have been to distract little Suzy. For example, offer her something else equally enticing, but safer to play with. “Look at this coaster. I can spin it on the ground. Want to try?”


1. Structure the environment:
For younger children:
– Put things away that aren’t safe or can be damanged.
– Childproof as much as you can and/or use safety gates.
– Place safe objects within your child’s reach so they have to stuff to explore and play with. Change out these objects regularly to keep it novel and exciting.
– If you take something away, offer something else in its place. “This isn’t safe to play with, but this is super fun. Watch what it does.”
– Distract your child by offering them something, showing them something, making a funny face or funny sound.
For older children:
– Involve your child in appropriate activities so they are not left to their own devices. (Sports, dance, Girls and Boys Club)
– Spend quality time with your children on structured activities you both enjoy. For example, maybe they could help cook dinner.

2. Creative routines:
– When your child knows what to expect it is easier for parents to create and enforce boundaries. “My mom expects me home by 9pm so I have to go.”

3. Give choices:
– Offer your child choices within boundaries that you are comfortable with. For example, “You can wear this dress or that dress” or “You can play videos for a total of three hours this weekend, you decide what you want to play.”
– If your child objects to the choices you offer tell them, “That’s not one of the choices.”
– Giving children choices involves them in the process. It helps them build independence and cooperation.

Remember, it is your child’s job to explore their world so have patience and steer them in the right direction by controlling the situation and not the child.

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