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My 2.5-year-old son has this weird fascination with electrical outlets and power bars. I tried telling him that it's dangerous (he understand and can identify dangerous objects and situations, and usually surrenders them to a parent), and I've tried giving him warnings, corner-time, and time-outs if he does end up, say, flipping a power-bar switch.

But he keeps doing it, and I'm not sure how to dissuade him from it. I obviously want to avoid any situation that may lead to electrocution; I even found a book about some turtle who interacts in various dangerous situations and gets harmed (including one scene where he plays with a lamp plug, gets electrocuted, and taken to hospital) -- but again, the behaviour is still persisting.

How can I curb this to prevent the unfortunate, seemingly inevitable?

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As an addition to what you're doing, get a safety breaker and test it annually. My wife, when she was 5, stuck a knitting needle in a live socket. The breaker worked, and she was fine if a little shocked. I'm a huge believer in multi-layered prevention. –  Carmi Mar 31 '11 at 17:37
    
@Carmi excellent suggestion! I will look into it. (Maybe you want to make this an answer so I can up-vote it.) ALso, can you provide a link to a page describing safety breakers? Googling didn't work. –  ashes999 Mar 31 '11 at 18:14
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I meant these things: esasafe.com/GeneralPublic/est_001.php#4 –  Carmi Mar 31 '11 at 20:08
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@ashes - I can't upvote Carmi's suggestions enough. We upgraded our fuse box to include an earth-leak detector on all power points as soon as we found out my wife was pregnant, because my wife did the same thing that Carmi's wife did, and my sister was put in intensive care and all the doctors said she should have died (she didn't) becuase of a similar accident. –  Mark Henderson Mar 31 '11 at 21:01
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It's beyond me that some countries don't have rules/laws about that kind of fuse boxes after all these years... it's a staggering lack of safety. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 8:18

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are two general strategies I know of:

Out of sight, out of mind Try to make the outlets and power-bars inaccessible. Move them out of sight, use coverlets to prevent the sockets from being exposed, hide them where the toddler can't reach them. This will likely not prevent eventual contact, but it might prevent it for long enough. Get power bars which are too complicated for children to operate - such as ones which come with electronic timers and off switches. Use plastic plugs and covers on all outlets in the house, ensuring nothing can be put into them.

Surrender - Embrace the fascination Teach your kid how to handle the devices safely. Use simple words and exaggerated facial and body language, and show him exactly which parts are dangerous. If you can, show him exactly why they are dangerous - relying on a book maybe too abstract for him at this young age. If possible, have him follow along with your proper handling procedures, on a toy, as you do them with a real device next to him. Go through the explanations several times in a row (6), and repeat them, daily, for several days. Refresh the explanation regularly after that, such as, for example, on every occasion that you are handling a power bar near him.

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Nice, but not useful when he's not at home (suggestion #1). As for suggestion #2 -- it's a kids book about a turtle, so it works, and I know he understands; he just doesn't listen. Maybe I'll try your repetition idea. –  ashes999 Mar 31 '11 at 16:29
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"Get power bars which are too complicated for children to operate[.]" That sounds like a recipe for the kid getting the device into a state from which the parents can't figure out how to recover! :-) –  afrazier Mar 31 '11 at 17:09
    
Ultimately, this is what worked for me. Cheers for the great answer. –  ashes999 Apr 9 '11 at 16:54

I don't have a better answer than the others for preventing younger children from touching electrical plugs, but I do know what helped curb any further play for us at age 4 -

When I felt our child had sufficient coordination, I walked him through the proper way to plug in / unplug electrical plugs, using an unplugged outlet strip for safe practice. For American plugs, at least, the safe method is gripping the plug firmly in your fist, making certain no fingers are extended past the front. After I was confident he had that I let him occasionally be a helper - plug in the Christmas lights, for instance, or unplug the vacuum to plug it in in another room. This ensured that he knew the safe way to handle electrical plugs and got any desire to play with them out of his system, because they moved from forbidden play item to chore.

Obviously this is only appropriate when your child has enough coordination to handle them safely.

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As mentioned in the question, my son is two and a half. This is not going to work, and it won't prevent him from sticking a screwdriver in it later. –  ashes999 Mar 31 '11 at 22:46
    
A great suggestion for later years. (And a good objection to it, too.) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 8:23

Flipping the power switch on a outlet or power strip isn't dangerous unless it's broken. What is dangerous is sticking things into the socket.

So make sure all your plugs and outlets are whole, sits well in the wall with no hole between the outlet and wall, and that all your power strips are in good nick and if possible, use child safe models of sockets. Also install a safety breaker as mentioned in the comments above.

Different countries have different sockets with different possibilities in the child safety department. Many European type of sockets nowadays come with child safety features that makes it impossible to insert pretty much anything except a plug in them.

Other countries have sockets where a third plug needs to be inserted before the socket goes live, or have shutters that open when the ground plug is inserted, meaning you need to stick two things into the socket before it gets dangerous.

In yet some countries sockets doesn't lend themselves to either, so the only option is to stick a cover over every free socket in the house. Make sure the cover does properly cover (with margin) the holes, and that you can't get the covers off with your fingers. In this case you still have problems if your child starts pulling plugs out and thereby uncovering sockets, in which case constant supervision unfortunately is the only remaining option.

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+1 for links to helpful illustrations –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 8 '11 at 11:46

I was talking with my wife about this one, and it's tough. I know how obsessive and persistent toddlers can be about things like this, and if they get obsessed with something dangerous..

Unfortunately, I think sometimes you simply have to wait for your toddler to grow out of a phase.

All you can do is watch him like a hawk, tell him it's dangerous in every way you can (and you have!), try to protect him as best you can ... and ... uh .. wait.

For him to outgrow this phase.

Painful, unsatisfying, and a lot of work.. but then sometimes that is what parenting is, at times.

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While your child understands the dangerous components; my guess is that he does not understand the severity.

This is difficult to convey to a child. The way which has worked for me in these types of situations is to tell my 3 year old that daddy and mommy would be sad. Attempt to convey emotions which would surface should they get hurt. State that you could get hurt so severely that mommy and daddy would cry.

Don't convey fear...convey emotions.

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Didn't work. He's impervious to positive and negative punishment. –  ashes999 Mar 31 '11 at 22:45
    
Was there a situation they were extremely scared...or sometime when they got hurt real bad that they recall? Use that as the basis for conveying the emotion. You need something the child can equate to...otherwise severity is still unknown in his eyes. –  Aaron McIver Apr 1 '11 at 3:33
    
At 2.5 years old? You must be joking. –  ashes999 Apr 1 '11 at 3:59
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No I'm not joking. Your child at 2.5 has never been scared or frightened? That may be a sign that he has nothing to fear; for obvious reasons. –  Aaron McIver Apr 1 '11 at 15:40

Children live in a dangerous world, and removing the dangerous bits is not sufficient. You may have control over your surroundings, but a child is often placed in other surroundings. You need a solution that keeps them safe wherever they are.

We're talking about something that can endanger the child's life. You need to do something that is different that what you do for misbehavior. There should be no levels of escalation, no warning. The reaction should be loud, immediate, and shocking. It should be enough to ensure it does not happen again. It should scare the child. The reaction should fit the situation. The situation here is life and death.

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Doesn't work. Tried this already; he always returns to the outlet. –  ashes999 Mar 31 '11 at 22:46
    
+1 for pointing out that this is not simple misbehaving but a potential matter of life and death. My son is also fascinated by power sockets, and we have not yet found a solution - I would have posted that as an answer. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 8:21
    
@torbengb post it, that may well be THE answer. –  ashes999 Apr 1 '11 at 15:49
    
@ashes, you want me to post an answer that there is no answer, no good solution? I'm still hoping that there will be an answer! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 18:50

This is what helped when my son was 2-year-old (and he has not touched the sockets thereafter). I told him that there is a dangerous voltage inside. Then I asked does he know what it means. He answered no. The I showed him a couple of Youtube videos about what happens if you tamper with a dangerous voltage.

Here is a couple of examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1wsAd9q_4w http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2LpCdhuOyQ

You can find more with search keywords "electric arc explosion" or similar.

The louder the boom is when the arc fires, the better it is. Then remind your child that same will happen if you stick something into an electric plug.

I think most kids fear the loud noise and electric arcs. There is, of course, a possibility that some kids feel excited about the arcs and want to try it :-(.

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If this is a real danger in your mind, I would look at replacing the outlets in rooms he frequents with safer designs:

Tamper-resistant receptacles - These otherwise-normal outlets contain a shutter that is only fully opened, allowing access to the electrical contacts, by inserting an electrical plug (technically they'll open if he sticks something thin and strong in both sides, but your average screwdriver, knife or penny in one side won't open them), and are more difficult to defeat than the "childproof" outlet covers. The plugs are available in 10-packs for $10 (a buck apiece) and if you're handy with household wiring it'll take about 5-10 minutes to swap one out. I've been doing this in the rooms my daughter will be confined to when she's old enough to crawl/walk (living room, her nursery, our bedroom) and slowly working through the rest of the house as well. Current U.S. housing construction code requires any newly-installed or replacement outlet in a residence to be tamper-resistant.

GFCI Outlets/Breakers - More expensive but safer, a GFCI outlet or breaker has circuitry that senses a "drain" of current from the hot leg that isn't matched by the current flowing through the neutral leg. 99 times out of 100 this is because the current is flowing to ground, presenting an electrocution hazard. When this occurs the circuit trips very quickly (less than 1 second). So, if your son sticks a knife in an outlet he'll get a jolt but it shouldn't be fatal. One GFCI outlet installed "upstream" of all other outlets on an electrical circuit will protect all those other outlets in the same way it protects itself. GFCIs are required in all "wet" indoor areas of a home (basement, kitchen, bathrooms) in new construction or renovation, and aren't a bad idea elsewhere either.

AFCI Breakers - Again, more expensive but safer, an AFCI breaker provides GFCI protection to all devices on the circuit, and also looks for patterns of current that detect an electrical arc (which can cause a fire) and trips a circuit breaker like a GFCI would. The current passing through a person generally exhibits arcing patterns which will quickly trip the breaker, so your son will get a jolt but it shouldn't be permanently damaging. AFCI breakers are a requirement in circuits supplying bedrooms. They can, unfortunately, cause some "nuisance trips" when devices with large motors like vacuum cleaners are plugged in when already turned on; the high draw will cause arcing which can trip the breaker. Also, if your house doesn't already have AFCI breakers, you'll need to call out an electrician to put them in; as a DIYer you do not want to mess with the electrical rails in the service panel if you value life. Unfortunately AFCI protection is not available in an outlet like GFCI is.

Tamper-resistant surge strips - Unfortunately, most "non-permanent" electrical devices with outlets, like extension cords and power strips, do not have the same tamper-resistant design as wall outlets (code does not yet require that type of tamper-resistance for these types of devices). However, they do make surge protector/power strip designs with external shutters, which can be opened to insert plugs and closed when not needed. A typical toddler supposedly does not have the strength to pry one of these open (I'm highly skeptical, and am waiting with bated breath for the internal shutters to become standard issue on power strips).

Unfortunately, none of these devices is a replacement for the vigilant parent. If your child is old enough to get around by themselves but not old enough to understand why he shouldn't do things, the best prevention is a weather eye, a sharp "NO" and five minutes on the naughty stool as often as necessary.

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In the city i live in, there's an All Comedy radio station. whenever i plop behind the wheel, that station is on.

One day there was a comedian that said something to the effect of ...

Mothers are bad for kids. If a toddler is walking towards an outlet with a safety-pin in hand, the mother is gonna reach down, holler "No! don't ever do that!" and then the kid will grow up hating mom because she never lets him do antyhing.

If Dad sees that same scenario, he leans over to his buddy (laughingly) "hey... watch this." and the kid learns by direct example not to do that.

That's my advice. Sure, downvote me for the "oh my god!" advice, but I guarantee results. The zap that comes out of an outlet will tingle the arm but is not enough juice to be anything more than a big surprise. And you won't have to worry about it when he goes over to someone elses house.

And you both will have learned a lesson.

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I'd upvote this approach for less dangerous situations, but electricity can and does kill. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 11:06
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My youngest is going through a fascination with outlets (at 12 months!), has already managed to get zapped, and still likes to play with them. –  afrazier Jan 16 '12 at 14:54
    
@Torben Gundtofte-Bruun as stated, the electricity that comes out of a normal, functioning household outlet is not enough elec to do anything more than tingle the hand/forearm of a normal, functioning human. A car can and does kill as well, but we still let our kids learn by getting behind the wheel. I knew this would be a downvote factory for me, but i guess it's the difference between personalities. –  monsto Jan 16 '12 at 16:52
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We can discuss the lethal merits of electricity on Skeptics. On Parenting, I think it's unsafe advice. YMMV. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 16 '12 at 16:57
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Bad. Electrocution doesn't just give you a "zap"; it can cause disfiguring burns, nerve damage, and it can kill. –  KeithS May 1 '12 at 0:50

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