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We have a pretty standard living room set up with a TV sitting on a not-that-high cabinet which is easily in reach of our seventeen month old. Our apartment is very small and for that reason we're not able to put the TV in a less accessible location (wall mounting is also not an option).

We're happy to let our toddler walk around the place and explore and generally have a tolerance for her making a mess of things and getting into things that she shouldn't. However, recently she's picked up a bad habit of walking up to the TV and hitting it as hard as she can and pushing it as far towards the wall as it will go. We understand that it's natural for her to want to touch and play with anything she can but her hitting the TV like this is obviously problematic - not just because she might break the TV (which would be a tragedy of course) but also because we're worried that it could fall on top of her and hurt her.

Over the last few months we've made a real effort to teach her the word 'no' by gently grabbing her and restraining her when she's doing something she shouldn't and repeating the word clearly a few times. This worked for a while and she was really responding and there was a month or so where we could just say 'no' to her and she would stop whatever she was doing and not be terribly upset about it. Over the last week or two though she's stopped responding to 'no' - I don't think it's that she's forgotten what it means but rather that she's growing to be a more stubborn toddler and just resisting. Earlier my wife was even holding one of her hands and saying no to stop her hitting the TV and my daughter just ignored her and kept pushing the TV with her free hand.

She has a play pen that can keep her from getting around the whole place but we don't like to keep her in there too long - partly because she gets very impatient and bored if we leave her in there for more than an hour or so but also because we think it's good for her to be able to explore around the entire apartment, too. We have tried a method of gentle 'punishment' where we pick her up and put her down in the pen every time she touches the TV hoping that this will discourage her from going near it but it doesn't seem to have changed her behaviour.

Does anybody have any suggestions for tips we can use? The ideal solution would be to get her to respond properly to the word 'no' again (she has some other habits that we'd like to curb too like pulling books out of our bookshelf or opening drawers and pulling clothes out but the TV issue is by far the most pressing) but if there are any other ideas then I would be very happy to hear them.

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    People with dementia sometimes try to interact with images on a TV screen as if they were real people, and trying to interact with them physically. Maybe your toddler is making the same type of perceptual mistake? – alephzero Nov 1 '20 at 21:32
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    Maybe I missed it somewhere, but I don't see anywhere that the OP has strapped the TV to the wall so it won't fall over - you have done that, right? – Kryten Nov 2 '20 at 17:44
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    Perhaps she feels the TV gets more attention than she does. Have you tried turning it off? – Aaron F Nov 2 '20 at 18:39
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    @Kryten OP said wall mounting isn't an option for whatever reason (likely because it's a rented apartment?), but you could potentially strap or bolt it to the cabinet instead. (I'd have to see the TV and the cabinet in question to be able to decide which would work best.) Assuming the cabinet is heavy enough not to be easy to tip over even with the added weight of the TV, this could be a viable alternative to wall-mounting that won't violate your lease. This might be a good DIY.SE question. – Darrel Hoffman Nov 2 '20 at 19:11
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    "wall mounting is not an option" - mounting the TV to the wall may not be an option, but adding anti-tip devices that attach to the wall almost certainly is (at least in most places in the US, which granted may not be applicable in your case). Tenants generally can hang things from or attach things to the walls, as long as it's done with only a nail / screw or two. – mmathis Nov 4 '20 at 3:28
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The keys are

  1. Talking to her about it when she's not in the act of doing it but preventatively when she is calm and in a listening state, perhaps at bedtime,
  2. Flipping the "don't" rule to a positive rule,
  3. Using a song or a visual aid so it sticks in her memory. My toddler was being dangerous standing on chairs so we came up with the jingle, "chairs are for sitting, floors are for standing, and tables are for putting food on, so don't stand on a chair, don't sit on a table, and don't put your food on the floor." Now, if he goes to stand on a chair, we just sing "chairs are for..." with the tune, and he finishes the line "sitting" and proceeds to sit on the chair. If your child is not very verbal yet, a visual will be necessary. You could put a cute sad face post-it on the TV and have it sing, "I'm the TV, please be gentle with me" or make a little book called "The Be Gentle" Book with pictures of all the fragile things in your home showing your toddler patting each one gently. She will love being in a book.
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    How to accomplish part 2: "flipping the don't rule to a positive rule"? – theonlygusti Nov 2 '20 at 13:19
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    @theonlygusti saying “chairs are for sitting” rather than “don’t stand on chairs” seems to be flipping it? – Tim Nov 2 '20 at 19:54
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    "Be gentle with the TV" sounds like a good way to flip it. – João Mendes Nov 3 '20 at 12:23
  • I really, really like the "positive spin" thing, including the book idea! - But I would be wary of limiting things to one "correct" purpose. I fear it will permanently damage the mind's ability to deviate from the norm and find creative solutions for new problems. Also there is a risk of self-contradiction, at least if you don't always get a stepladder to reach the high shelves yourself. I'd limit (absolute) rules to situations that don't have any conceivable exceptions. For everything else there are reasons and explanations. (That's a lot more work, though...) – I'm with Monica Nov 4 '20 at 9:51
  • Turning it into a song is awesome. I remember things best with music and I'm a grown-up...ish. :) – MacGyver88 Nov 4 '20 at 16:30
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Just holding their hand and gently saying "no" achieves precisely nothing if they're ignoring you. Remember that the risk is the TV falling on them, which is potentially fatal. You wouldn't simply hold their hand and gently say "no" if the risk was burning or electrocution.

So the rule is "don't touch the TV" on the same principle as "don't touch the front of the oven". You don't let them touch the front of the oven even when it's off (I hope!) because they can't recognise whether it's on or off, and being in the habit of touching it when it's cold means they're going to hurt themselves when it's hot. By the same logic, it doesn't matter whether they're just touching the TV or pushing it, because they don't understand the risk. Treat the TV as an immediate risk to their safety, and be consistent about it.

So, dealing with a risky situation. The first thing is to physically pull them away from the risk. You're an adult, they're a toddler, so this isn't difficult. Try not to pull an arm because it's easy to hurt them that way, but one way or another you need to move them to safety.

And the second thing is to forget gently saying "no" if they aren't listening. Children are inherently frightened of loud noises and raised voices. A shouted "no" as you pull them away from the danger is effective as a short sharp shock. It needs to be a "no" which you clearly mean.

Chances are pretty good that will result in tears, because you've scared them. You can then comfort them and tell them that what they were doing was dangerous. "You'll get hurt, baby. I shouted because what you were doing was dangerous, and I don't want you to get hurt." The lesson is that you still love them, but there are boundaries - and those boundaries are not just because you say so, but because there are dangers you're saving them from.

  • Having an oven is a "necessary" risk, having a badly mounted TV is not. Remove risks, whereever possible. Then prevent the remaining ones from realizing into accidents. - You'd still not want the toddler to hit the TV, but for the TV's sake. - Otherwise +1 – I'm with Monica Nov 4 '20 at 9:55
  • @I'mwithMonica Yes, if there are other obvious solutions, like moving the TV to a higher position, then great. I'm assuming (possibly incorrectly) that the OP would already have done this if it was easy though. And we shouldn't underestimate the ingenuity of a sufficiently determined toddler in getting to something! – Graham Nov 4 '20 at 10:37
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You are right that the TV falling on your child is a danger. Similarly, dressers and other furniture can fall onto a child (especially one who likes to push or climb furniture) so I recommend you toddler-proof your house with furniture safety straps.

When our kids were toddlers, we surrounded our TV with a baby fence. Neither of our children were as interested in touching the TV as yours, so that mild deterrent was enough for us. You could probably attach the fence to the TV stand for some medium level deterrence.

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    Yes, I was going to say, put the TV in the playpen. – RedSonja Nov 3 '20 at 12:32
  • This is exactly what we did - not as helpful a parenting tip as some of the other answers, but a solid, practical solution. As soon as the kid outgrows the playpen, put everything not kid friendly into the playpen! – RadioRaheem Nov 4 '20 at 5:47
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I'm going to use some animal training terms, I understand that human children are different from animals but these techniques really do work on humans, too. See the NY Times "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage" article.

Put a play-pen around the TV, so that she can't get to the TV. Or put the TV on a raised wall mount, so she can't get to the TV.

Then when she tries to test TV boundaries, give a Least Positive Reinforcement...basically, just ignore what she's doing when she tries to get to the TV. This is a technique animal trainers use when they don't want to/can't use a negative reinforcement.

Then distract her with something else and give her a positive reinforcement when she does what you want her to do (ask her to show you her walking, ask her to say a word that she knows, whatever). Again, a training technique--teach an incompatible behavior. Since at this age she probably can't focus on two things at once, almost any behavior is going to be incompatible with trying to get to the TV.

Testing boundaries is what toddlers do and they test the boundaries that get big, exciting reactions the most. If you take away the excitement and distract her then she'll get bored pretty quickly and move on to driving you crazy some other way.

You should still give her opportunities to test boundaries and make mistakes, etc., but less dangerous and less expensive ones.

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We have used the same training techniques we learned raising dogs, with great success with our children. Our experience has been that, up to the age of two at least, all of the same basic approaches work pretty well. Better comprehension of language, at least beyond those first several months when they are still learning comprehension, means that you can be more nuanced in some cases which is very helpful. But basic behavioral training techniques work great.

Similar to, but not exactly the same as this answer, it's all about supervision and redirection. Our approach with three different boys was the same:

  1. Use the phrase "not for you" when they attempted to interact with something (typically, in the household) that they should not interact with, and gently physically move them away from the object.
  2. Immediately provide an alternative activity. This can be literally anything age-appropriate: a book, a toy, whatever it is you do want them to play with. (In our case this very much meant not things like keys, cell phones, computers, tablets, etc.…it needs to be something you're comfortable with them seeking out on their own and playing independently with).

We felt that "not for you" was a better expression of the situation, and allowed us to reserve "no" for emergency situations, as well as being a simply response to an interrogative, without carrying a lot of negative baggage.

The redirection is critical. It not only distracts from the current situation, but it also reinforces positive play with whatever the distracting item is. This has led to them seeking those things out on their own, once they've done enough exploring to understand what the boundaries are.

It's really important to understand that this approach is very labor intensive. Practically all of our really successful parenting techniques have been. But it's only labor intensive early on. The learning is a lot more rapid with this hands-on approach, and pays huge dividends later in life.

Two dogs and three boys have all been trained this way, and it's always worked 100% without drama. Key is patience and consistency. No yelling, no violent movements. Just gentle redirection every single time.

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