How to Set Boundaries for Toddlers Without Stunting Their Curiosity

As parents, we must all straddle a fine line. We need to set boundaries for the behavior of our kids, while at the same time be careful to avoid stunting their curiosity or need to explore the world. This is especially true for toddlers. If you’ve been wondering how to find the right balance, read on to find out what Chelsea Pearson has to say in this guest post.


1. Physical Boundaries
Toddlers need to have tangible boundaries set for their physical movement. This is a great way to minimize intellectual boundaries. For instance, toddlers have to know that they can get burned if they touch a stove, or they can get run over by a car if they go outside the fence. Similar to how we teach babies not to run off the top steps or they will fall, toddlers have to know their physical limits as well or they could get seriously injured or hurt. Toddlers will normally give you an indication when they want to push the boundary. They do this because of curiosity. If you constantly reject their need to explore, they will likely develop resentment toward you, but if you talk to them about new limits and explain the reasons why they have those limits, they are likely to settle down and accept this. Be sure to provide fun, stimulating activities for their room, playpen or wherever they are confined.

2. Behavioral Boundaries
Behavioral boundaries must be set with toddlers too. This is going to teach them how to behave and function in society one day. You have to remember that you don’t want to instill a fear of uniqueness or eccentricity, and you should always encourage your children to be different and question societal norms. But, you also want to make sure you’re preparing them for the real world. This doesn’t mean that you let them do what they want, but you have to let your toddler know that the consequences are for their actions and that you will follow through.



3. Time Out
One of the most effective disciplines for toddlers that also set boundaries is a time out. Time outs should be limited to one minute for each year of age. Because they are so small, you have to stop what you are doing and stand over them. but with your back to them, so they cannot see your facial language (unless you have a really grumpy face). When their time out is over, explain to them again what they did wrong and why they are in time out. Discipline like this has to occur at the time of their wronged action, not later. Constantly remind your toddler of the acceptable rules and consequences.

4. Provide Structure 
Set up boundaries for toddlers that encourage exploration and simultaneously avoid the word “no.” For instance, when your toddler is in the stages of grabbing things, put things out of their reach that can hurt them, such as a hot coffee cup. That way, you’ll never have to say “No, don’t grab that.” Just don’t let it be an option. When the child reaches the curiosity stage of wanting to lift the toilet lid bowl, put a latch on it or lock the door. Take the “no” out of the routine, and they won’t feel jilted.


Toddlers need to explore and learn about their world. Our job as parents is to help them explore it safely and not get hurt. We can do this by teaching them boundaries, but keeping mind that they must still be free spirits. Hopefully these tips help you, they definitely helped me!

*****

Thank you, Josh Anderson for connecting Chelsea Pearson and Subho's Jejune Diet. Chelsea is a blogger who writes about finance.

27 comments:

  1. Interesting post on a music site. :)

    But yes, you must encourage your child to think and know the difference between right and wrong from an early age rather than reprimand them for what they are doing.

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    1. I think your love for music has got you thinking that this was The Operative Note. Glad that you took time to share your thoughts. Knowing your work, I know that you must have liked the post about whether normalcy is good for kids that is linked in the very first paragraph of the post.

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  2. The balance is a very fine line with children. I've used time outs with both my kids, but a parent must also know the virtue of consistent behavior. Another things that work well with kids is taking away privileges if they misbehave especially for older kids. Never give in to tantrums in a public place. Kids are so intelligent; they know exactly whether you will give in or not. We are not that sure :).

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    1. i have seen this difference in kids behaviors with people who they know will not give in to their tantrums, and i feel it is a very important point that you have made. parents need to make it clear to toddlers that a tantrum is not a negotiating tool. it is difficult to be sure that you will not give in, but it is also a matter of habit. i have seen toddlers who learn to fuss and ask, and then tolerate the frustration of the situation gracefully, and often forget about it in minutes.

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  3. To some degree I agree with Chelsea, though we did stretch with our own toddler in some regards. Everybody had told us when she came, that it is time to move away the low lying furniture and tape the plug points. We went on patiently without doing anything of the sort to help our child understand why those areas are out of bounds, even as they grow up!

    Setting boundaries is the hardest game in child rearing, but it is important to set consequences which are concrete flags for the child to follow.

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    1. Tipu, parents around me are often very panicky because I keep telling them it is okay if the child hurts himself. as long as there is no serious threat, i think it is good to let kids experience consequences themselves and create their own boundaries.

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  4. I am not sure how much I agree on this post. I have seen kids learning physical boundaries in the West to the extreme--they would not be allowed to go to rooms designated as adults. And social rules--kids of 5-6 years sitting quietly in a chair while adults talk away for hours! And our Indian kids are usually considered as the wild ones who are taught no manners. Frankly I just believe in the old saying--till s/he turns 5, treat him/her like a princess. After that with great discipline, and then after puberty as a friend.

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    1. Bhavana, I second your thought

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    2. I remember "you may give them you love but not your thoughts,
      For they have their own thoughts"
      ...
      Let your bending in the archers hand be for gladness"

      lines of Gibran..

      "Our job as parents is to help them explore it safely and not get hurt" that's seconds.

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    3. Bhavana, I tend to disagree with your statement. Disciplining is not bad, and it must be initiated in the initial years. To give you an example, teach your child to eat with the family and eat what the family eats. Even my younger son who is 5 knows what junk food is. Share good information with your kids. They are amazingly intelligent, and they copy your behavior more than what you say. The extremes are bad I agree. You have to start inculcating good values in them right from when they are small. Give them loads of room to have fun, but if you allow them to run rough shod, you will find them throwing tantrums in supermarkets to buy certain candy, juice, biscuits and what not! They will be the parent. Look around and you will find many such pampered brats let loose.

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    4. I see your point Rachna and thanks for putting these points across. And also thanks for letting me explore this topic more in depth.
      Ok, I agree with your points but this where my problem lies. You see as individuals and as families we are already corrupted. We are already conditioned to certain ways of thinking. Now if I follow my parent, while I might learn cultural norms, am I not also picking up their conditioning? How am I going to explore laterally?
      For example in a study done, they found if the baby was set free, s/he picked up food that was naturally nutritious and actually ate food that was balanced. On the other hand, we have a system where we think this is how balance should be and what not, and we force the kids to eat that way. In deeper sense we have been disconnected from our environs. What are we then teaching the kids?
      Kids in a natural space do not eat junk food. It is when we expose them to ourselves and our peers and our lives that they crave so.
      At least this is how I read it. I know you are a mother working closely in this area and I will welcome your judgment any day to my theoretical assessments.

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    5. my personal belief is to do away with the concept of saying no in the early years. offer them protection, but not by denying them experiences. what most people feel though is that since personality is developed in the first five or six years, that is the time they should be familiarized with 'social' norms. i am not so certain that that does not end up stifling their innate natures. i feel that as a society we probably need to stop excepting toddlers to behave like adults. maybe that will stop the rich and powerful adults in our society from thinking and acting like toddlers as far as impulse control is concerned.

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    6. Parenting is a tough call, Bhavana. Of course, most of us will be using things we saw in the childhood and what our parents did as our benchmark. What I do is listen to older women, also other friends, browse the net and use my own instincts. What is also very important is that both parents be on the same page. Lots of times, both spouses work in divergent ways. I think being natural is good. But, you must remember that a parent is a person who does not have the whole day to stick around the small child, allowing her to explore, dirty things, get hurt etc. So, we put the boundaries at times and then allow them to explore at other times. Just today I read that there is too much pressure on being a good parent! And, you are forgetting the influence television and their peers have on your child's food preferences. Also environmental factors like display aisles in supermarkets, all influence your child and make him/her hanker after the bad stuff. That is where a parent has to step in. Free rein given to a child is only good in an ideal environment free from any other interferences. Boundaries are required in the world we live in. It will be interesting to have a chat with you Bhavana on this topic sometimes where we can share experiences. I do maintain that there is no one right method. There can never be when it comes to parenting :).

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  5. I'll make sure i remember all of it in future.. ;) nice read

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    1. thanks for taking time to leave a comment, shubham. remember we are in 2012, there might not be too much of a future. kidding, but these are important guidelines that lead to building a healthy and well-rounded personality in the child.

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  6. Hi

    Nice read. There needs to be a delicate balance between letting the child be a child and disciplining. Knowing on which side of the balance you need to take a stand is quite tricky and each child is unique in his or her own way!

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    1. i love bertrand russell's benchmark for personal ethics - he suggested we ask ourselves two questions before choosing any course of action - will it kill me, and will it put me on the wrong side of the law. if the answer to both of them is no, go ahead and do it man. i think a similar liberal line of thinking is needed with regard to bringing up a toddler. we have to remember that while too much of freedom can lead to a spoilt brat, it also helps develop self-learning.

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  7. I agree with you . Toddlers should be given some amount of freedom and encouraged to be curious about the things around them. However a little bit of discipline is a must. And a no now and then for a right reason also teaches them they can't have everything.

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    1. i have struggled repeatedly and failed repeatedly but still keep trying to keep the no out of my vocabulary when dealing with toddlers. it is easier in the early years, but once they are a little more active and inquisitive, it becomes very difficult to do it. i tried replacing the no with a question, or with a change in my tone - which toddlers are quite sensitive to, but somewhere down the line, you have to resort to denying them of their freedom and disciplining them for doing something that is either wrong or harmful.

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  8. Married in December, blog topic toddlers in June - Boy, that was quick! And what's with this guest post business - A way around writer's block?

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    1. very funny, rahul. the guest post business is not just a way around writers block and keeping the updates ticking but also to give bored readers like you a respite from my usual rants. like someone wrote in the other day - there is enough misery in my life, please stop sending me your post links.

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  9. When we have toddlers around, we have to set boundaries to 'keep them safe' more than anything else. I don't think we can ever stunt their curiosity, whatever discipline techniques we may use. Toddlers will always be curious -- even if there are boundaries, even with all the 'No's that are thrown their way.
    I'd say the challenge is to keep them curious when they are older kids.

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    1. this is a very valid point, how to keep them curious and positive as they grow. auditing your own lifestyle and personality is a good starting point since they will first learn what they see.

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  10. An excellent post. They learn a lot from their peers and how others behave around them. This means that we too have to set boundaries for ourselves for their sake.

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  11. its a great post. all parents must read it.

    http://styledestino.blogspot.com/

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  12. Such an interesting and informative post! Toddlers need to be raised with so much of care. Every word and every action of ours would have a great impact on them, in the years to come. There is no point instilling fear in them and getting them to do what we want, but we have to tell them, in a manner they understand, what is good and what is not!

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  13. Nice concepts but I had to agree that this works only for children who had crossed their toddler age / age > 6 since only in their toddler years kids imaginations are wild and ten times bigger to explore

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