Our four year-old enjoys ripping things. Mostly toilet paper or other scrap paper, but this morning we found a book in the trash with the cover and a few pages torn off. It was an old book with a fragile cover, so it may have been an accident. At any rate, it seems like it's turning into a habit that's a big mess at best and destructive at worst. She mostly does it when we are asleep. Any ideas for suppressing or redirecting this impulse?

  • Mine (3 1/2) does this too. It's getting to be a big problem. I have a small library down stairs, and she knows she will be in trouble if she destroys a book in daddy's library. But somehow, a random book lying around the house is fair game... I hope someone has a solution to this.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 19:41
  • @corsiKa: Often, solutions start with parents asking the question "Why is the child doing this?" I know this is often hard to answer, and sometimes there outright is no answer. But then, destruction is part of what we do, and if the child wants to exercise this, why not provide the means, as DanBeale wrote? (And if ripping stuff is no fun if it isn't forbidden, then you're back at the "Why?" Only you're a step further, asking a different question.)
    – sbi
    Commented Sep 14, 2014 at 1:03
  • 2
    Introduce him to bubble wrap. Ripping paper is a very poor second!
    – Marc
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 3:35

3 Answers 3


Buy a bunch of different coloured paper for colage work. Use old paper for papier mache. Explain that ripping up stuff for this is fine, but ripping up other things is not fine, and might be naughty and might have consequences. Explain that she needs to ask before ripping up anything that is not in the craft bucket.


Kids of that age usually do this kind of thing either because they simply enjoy the drama and sensations connected with the activity, or because they are trying to figure the connections between their actions and the results, or a bit of both.

I think the best approach to dealing with it is to avoid telling her off unless absolutely necessary, but simply to explain that there is some paper that it is OK for her to tear up, and some that it is not. Show her the paper or books that are off-limits. Then show her a pile of paper or old books that you have decided she can destroy (perhaps acquired cheaply at a thrift store or yard sale), and tell her that when she tears it up, it has to happen in a particular spot in your house. This location is preferably one that does not contain dangerous equipment, and that you can fairly easily clean up. Then keep an eye on her during the first few ripping-up sessions until it is clear that she has settled into doing it the way you have explained.

  • +1 - I love the first paragraph, and the permissible circumstances. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 5:03

I have always had a huge shelf of books, all the way down to the room's floor. When our first child arrived, we discussed this and decided that, when the child started to be mobile enough to threaten the books, we'd designate one of the "ground floor compartments" of the shelf to the child and even put an old book in there.

This worked out pretty well for all my kids. If the child was trying to grab a book, we took it to the designated compartment explain "no, that isn't yours to take, but this here is yours, you can take everything in there". All my children learned this within about 2 weeks, with the notable exception of one, who took 8 months... Still, as a father of many, in little more than a decade I lost two book covers.

The same worked for the door in the cupboard behind which the pots etc. were: Designate one side fair game, and if the child is trying to get into the other, take it to the one that's been given to it.

I think the lesson behind this is: If such a small child has the urge to tear things apart, provide the means for it to do just this in a way that's OK.

As always, repeat the parental mantra: It's just a phase. :)

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