Toddlers: 24 Months+

Giving my toddler more freedom?

My oldest is 23 months. We live in a split level house and ever since he could crawl we have made the living room the "kid room". Everything is safe - locked, strapped, gated, kid-friendly - and it is where we spend 99% of our time play. Our kitchen is also safe (dangerous drawers and cabinets locked) so we sometimes let him play in there. But when we do it is endless annoyances...banging on pots while my 2 month old is napping, spreading plastic containers from one end of the house to the other, standing in drawers, playing in the dog bowl...heaven forbid we forget to take the mail off the table, because that would be in shreds! It has become so irritating we more often than not close off the kitchen with everything else. I go to my friend's house and her 2.5 year old is happily wondering around her house completely unencumbered playing nicely and not destroying anything, and she has been for months.

And therein lies my question - at what point is it ok to let my child have free range of our house? I feel like I can't leave him for even a minute if he isn't contained. During bedtime last night I had to put my infant in his bassinet, so I left my toddler in his room for 30 seconds. I come back and he has been pulling things off shelves and playing with a lamp. I can't remove every lamp, shelf, drawer, closet, and rug from the house. And with an infant I can't just spend all my time following him from room to room making sure he doesn't grab, break, pull, climb, tear, and destroy everything in our house. I feel's technically his house too but he isn't allowed anywhere.

How am I supposed to potty train if I can't let him up or down the stairs to the bathrooms? How am I going to transition him out of his crib if I can't trust him to be alone in his own room for 30 seconds? How can I ever teach him any independence at all if every single time I give him even the smallest leeway he is instantly grabbing, climbing, and wrecking everything in site?? 

Am I just jumping the gun and the fact is he is just still too immature to have that kind of freedom? Should I discourage it since I have one right behind him who will need all this same containment in 6 months? Have I gone containment overboard and the reason he destroys everything is because he never has a chance to explore anything? 

Re: Giving my toddler more freedom?

  • I have always let my daughter have free range and go where she wanted too. She loves to play with the plastic bowls especially while I am cooking. I just have her put them away when she is done. We have also taught her by saying "no" and/or redirection what she can and can't play with. Not to sound funny, but it's her house too. 
    If you don't want him to go into certain rooms, can you close the doors? I used to keep the bathroom doors closed because when she was younger, she would play and destroy the toilet paper. When she showed interest in using the potty, I would keep one bathroom door open. 
    Plus, I also believe in transitioning kids when they are ready. When he is developmentally ready, you can transition him out of the crib, potty train him, etc. 
    Just remember every kid is different. Your baby could have a total different temperament than your oldest. I only have one child, but I do have a nephew (hes 4) that often stays with us for extended lengths of time. I tailor everything to the individual child. 
  • We never blocked off any portions of our home, only made it safe (gates at the stairs, outlets made safe, locked the cabinet under the sink, etc). The kiddos have free roam of the house and have sort of figured out what is fun for them and what is not a toy. For example, sometimes they like to pull on the cable box or play in the dogs water. We are very consistent with "this is not a toy" "you cannot play with that" etc and then redirecting them to something they can do. So far they have conquered almost every room and generally just go straight to their toys. But they love exploring and finding new things! Being consistent is the key - stop them, tell them, and redirect them - be firm. It's how they learn what's ok to play with and what is not. If they don't listen the first time, I am also a fan of the one minute time out. Gives them time to cool down (and hopefully think of something else they want to do) and you 60 seconds to regroup. Good luck!
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  • I've also always let my son have free range of the house and he never really "destroyed" anything. I chalked it up to him just being sort of a cautious kid but who knows. He's 3.5 now and can go wherever he wants in the house with no problems.

    I have a 10 month old now and we do have to follow her around but she has quite a bit of freedom. I make sure she has access to a couple cupboards in the kitchen that are "her" cupboards and have plastic cups or Tupperware in them and she can trash that stuff all she wants. Most things you are describing above can be cleaned up after your LO is done playing with them and that is a good opportunity to teach him how to clean up.

    I don't think you are doing anything wrong or have done anything wrong to create this "problem". It's probably just the personality of your child. I would start giving him some more freedom but work with him as you start this process to teach him what he can and cannot do. Have him help clean up what he has messed up.

    As far as potty training and moving to a crib goes, don't stress that now. One step at a time. Tackle this freedom thing first and see if you make any headway then figure out the other stuff.

  • I think boys are also a little more energetic and destructive. I keep finding mine jumping on top of the TV stand or tables and have heard stories of them climbing shutter blinds. You just have a curious explorer on your hands. We went to story time at the library the other day and mine was the only one running around jumping on chairs, opening cabinets, playing with the trash can, checking the PA system and yanking on the blinds. I don't remember my oldest being that way. We have the dining room/entry gated off so we can put anything unsafe there. I keep all doors closed except his room for now so he plays there or the living room mostly. I recently put a big step stool by the kitchen sink and leave a few of his dishes for him to play with in the sink. He loves it! It could keep him busy for days although he makes a big wet mess sometimes and I do have to watch him to make sure he doesn't fall. You could get him interested in playing with something in his room while you tend to baby or good ol TV every once in a while to distract him when you need to do something like change your clothes.
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  • My 2yr old and 3.5yr old have free range of the entire house. There have never been any gates at this house (my youngest was 14 months when we moved in) not even on the stairs. The cabinets with cleaning products/poisonous liquids are locked. Obviously I followed my younger one around more when he was younger but he mostly leaves things alone now. He doesn't bother my pots and pans anymore etc. He can not be trusted with a pen/marker/crayon though. I keep those on very high shelves because he can climb on to counters and he carries a step stool all over the house.

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  • It takes time and patience.  We gave DD free range once she became mobile.  like pp said the dangerous cupboards and closets are locked but otherwise she can do what she wants.  This has been nice, however it's trying on the nerves for the first few weeks as the child discovers boundaries.  The dog's water dish was a huge favorite, and sometimes I still see her eye it up, but she doesn't slop around in it like she once did.

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