Several years ago I invited some friends over to join us for dinner at our home. She had four little boys at the time and our Justice was just a wee little tyke who was not yet mobile . As a heads-up, I told our friend that our house was not child-proof. Her reply has stuck with me over these last several years and have actually helped to shape an aspect of my child training.
“That’s ok, I’ve tried to house-proof my children instead of child proof my house.”
And when they came over, her children respected my home. They didn’t pull all the DVD’s off my low bookshelf. They didn’t break anything. And they didn’t open my dresser drawers and look through them (yes, there was someone I knew who’s child did this!). I was impressed! Here were 4 active little boys who had learned to respect other people’s belongings. I wanted this for my own children.
That experience is what has caused me to set out on this (long, arduous, exhausting) journey to house-proof my children rather than child-proofing my house.
I will admit, this was also necessitated by my living situation over the past two years. We lived in a travel trailer, in the family room at my mom’s house, in a friends house we were house-sitting for, and finally in our own, unfinished and potentially dangerous, work-in-progress home. There was no way I could have child-proofed each place we stayed at. Cabinet locks and door handle covers and barricades were impractical.
Instead, I worked on making our children house-proof.
This meant that when they became mobile, my life did become harder. I was more active – always chasing them around and incessantly training. When they touched something “off limits”, I would tell them no, lightly spank their hands, and move them away. It took awhile, but slowly and surely I’ve watched as the training has paid off. Now, a verbal reminder is enough (usually) to keep them away from mommy’s things.
This was not an easy process, and I have often be tempted to just give in. To just block things off that I don’t want them to touch. To buy those cabinet locks and door handle covers and barricades. But then I remember my friend and her 4 active little guys. There isn’t a quick-fix strategy to get that type of behavior…it is the result of hours and days and months, yes, even years, of training.
Here are some of the things that I keep within my children’s reach (but that they’re not allowed to touch):
- My makeup
- Food (my kitchen cabinets don’t have doors yet!)
- House Plants
- Candle Holders
Part of this whole training process is to teach our children to respect other people’s things. Everything that my children are not allowed to touch belongs to someone else (usually mommy or daddy!). The goal is that as we are in other people’s homes/offices/etc. my children will recognize that not everything is for them to touch and play with.
There are of course exceptions to my theory.
I don’t leave dangerous items in the reach of two curious little boys. Knives, scissors and other sharp objects as well as fire of any kind (lighters, matches, etc.) are always kept high out of their reach. I put safety covers on our electrical outlets and have a baby gate in blocking off my unfinished
storage closet pantry.
In all of this, I think there is a balance. A balance between safety and training opportunities. We as parents have a responsibility to protect our children but also to prepare them for life.
Embarking on this journey to house-proof my children has taught me a few things.
First, that it’s still okay to have pretty things displayed in your home when you’re a mom. This has been extremely freeing to me. I love making my home beautiful and having nice things on my shelves and tables. But I feared that when I had little ones, I would have to drastically change that. Now, I know that it’s possible to have children and pretty things cohabitate in the same space!
Secondly, it has taught me to not place such a high value on things. I had these three beautiful red candle holders that I absolutely loved. One moment of disobedience from one of my boys led to one of them getting broken. While I was disappointed and sad, I realized that something like this was bound to happen. My things are just that – things. But the opportunity to use them as training tools is of great value.
Thirdly, it has helped me to really think about what is off-limits in my home. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have kitchen cabinet doors. That leaves my lower cabinets as a veritable play ground for the boys. I have chosen to allow them to play with the items in a couple of the cabinets – my pots and pans, paper towels, scrubbing pads, etc. Yes, I clean them up on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis. Yes, it can be somewhat annoying. But they’re not hurting anything and they’re staying occupied with imaginative play.
I have not done this perfectly…I am still trying.
Sometimes I do feel like giving up. There are days when the boys seem set on destroying my theory. Days when every off-limit item seems to tempt them more. Days when an extra measure of grace is especially needed.
But my children are learning. They don’t have to be corrected multiple times a day for touching something off-limits. Justice helps guide Samuel to what is an acceptable play area. And going to other people’s homes with two toddlers is not an absolute nightmare.
I recognize that we don’t all do this parenting thing the same. Each family parents a little differently and I am not judging you (or anyone) for how you choose to teach your little ones. I trust that your heart is to help them grow up into kind, principled, god-honoring, respectful individuals and that God will give each of us grace as we do our best.
So let me know in the comments…Do you child-proof your house or are you working to house-proof your children? I’d love to hear!