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Husband needs to accept curiosity

Q: Our toddler is getting to the into-everything-all-the-time stage. I think we should install drawer locks, remove things that can break/cause harm, and let him explore most, but not all other things. My husband thinks he just needs to learn not to touch, through constant repetition of "No, don't touch." Seems to me there is a limit to how much a little one can control himself, and we should therefore start with a small list of things around which he needs to exercise that control. How do we resolve these different approaches, and come to some understanding? I'm assuming as he gets older, these kinds of issues will just get more complicated.

A: As who gets older, your husband? Try following him around, saying "No, don't touch" every time he reaches for something, then nudge him aside impatiently and do everything for him.

I know, escalation is never the answer.

But kids learn by touching and doing; an easy way to encourage and reward learning is to provide environments where kids can touch or do with minimal negative repercussions. It's reasonable, humane, routinely advised by child care veterans.

Instead of digging in to fight your husband, though, let him fight himself. Specifically: Do errands, get a haircut, hit the gym, make him sole toddler-teacher for a good stretch in your unsecured house. Childproofing starts to look great when you're in a perma-stoop issuing your 18th "no" of the hour. Plus there's the secret joy of letting your husband learn through negative reinforcement how soul-sucking it is to learn through negative reinforcement.

If that fails, you can validate his desire for real-world boundaries by agreeing to forgo latches . . . and you can rearrange a few things yourself, quietly, but common-sensically, as if it hadn't occurred to you that anyone would do otherwise. Glasses high, pots/pans/plastics low, poisons locked, lamps pushed back, cords tucked behind heavy furniture, heavy furniture anchored against tipping. For many kids, this is enough.

If your husband fights you even on that — wow — suggest running the debate by your pediatrician. Authoritative third parties can help shift the focus off your marriage dynamics and rightly onto the kid. Your husband may simply need to hear from an unbiased source that even in a child-proofed house, a curious kid can turn every doorjamb and trash can into a teachable moment.

These steps, as it happens, form a progressive blueprint for future conflict resolution: creative patience, in case things resolve themselves; principled compromise; referee.

If, ultimately, your husband won't take sanity, humanity, common sense or authority for an answer, then you have to start wondering what drives his resistance.

Does he generally need to be right? Is he denying his new reality, or dodging the tedium of installing dozens of catches on dozens of insides of dozens of doors and drawers? Was he raised this way, with the white living room no one was allowed to enter (except this mysterious and unduly entitled specter known as "company"), and is he bent on making his children suffer as he did?

I realize these boil down uncharitably to "control," "passive aggression" and "vengeful myopia," but my intent isn't to vilify. It's to second your alarm about future differences. For that, there's counseling, for couples if he'll go, solo if he won't.

Write "Tell Me About It," c/o Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or

e-mail tellme@washpost.com.

Husband needs to accept curiosity 04/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:28pm]

    

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