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My sweet 2 year old boy has developed a new dangerous habit.

He loves to pull out chairs from the table, and will frequently try to climb up on top of them and onto the table as well. Naturally we want to prevent him from doing this, and we rush over immediately to pull him away and put him on the ground. He does the same with my computer chair - sometimes to try to climb up onto my desk, sometimes to try and chew on the soft arm guards [he has a late oral fixation].

Our natural response is to rush over and pull him away, then tuck in the chair as tight as possible. But I am concerned that this is giving him the wrong message - that if he does this he will get picked up by one of his parents, something that he absolutely loves.

Is there any way for me to prevent him from getting into the dangerous position of climbing up onto a chair and then onto a table, without giving him the positive reinforcement of being picked up by a parent?

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    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 26, 2023 at 19:25

4 Answers 4

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You could put the chairs up on the table, so he can't reach them either.

If impossible for whatever reason, then don't make the "getting him down" too much like a lovely snuggly cuddle. A quick, "oh dear, we don't go up there" and put him back on the floor. If the goal was really to do some climbing then even the best ever cuddle is going to be annoying! Obviously he'll protest at his game being over, you need to explain its to keep him safe, and then distract him onto something fun and active he can do.

Also find some climbing he is able to do, the playground, gymnastics class, soft play, one of those in house climbing triangle things. To get that climbing energy out!

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  • 10
    "Also find some climbing he is able to do..." Amen! +1 Oct 20, 2023 at 0:28
  • 20
    Be careful putting chairs on tables - if he can reach their legs he may be able to pull them down on top of himself...
    – psmears
    Oct 20, 2023 at 10:51
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    @psmears especially if the chairs are placed upside down so the seat is on the table surface - that way the back hangs down in reach and may well me used as a stabilising surface to lean on when standing up. The leaver forces there are likely to topple the fair off and onto the toddler. Oct 20, 2023 at 12:19
  • Is the table pub height? Oct 20, 2023 at 13:50
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A couple of things:

  1. Climbing is really good for his development. It's good for him to learn to take calculated risks. If you think that climbing on the table is too dangerous or too annoying for what you're trying to use it for, you could consider getting/making him something like a Pickler triangle so that he has a good place to practice climbing.
  2. If you are OK with him climbing on the table apart from the safety aspect, you could put cushions on the floor in case he falls.
  3. As others have said, be sure to not "reward" him for annoying behavior with extra affection when removing him. It is important that he understands that you mean what you say when you tell him not to do something, particularly if that thing is safety related, so be consistent. Be sure that you are showing plenty of affection unrelated to annoying/dangerous behavior so that he does not feel the need to do "bad" things to get your attention.
  4. Toddlers go through various phases like this and they always pass fairly soon. Don't despair, soon he'll be fixated on a different thing that is frustrating to you :)
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    There isn't really any way to make the space around the table safe. Our apartment is two-story and the space for the table he climbs on isn't that big, he'd wind up in danger of falling into something no matter what - and it's also high up enough that even with some cushioning it would still be dangerous. But all the same I do appreciate the suggestions. We definitely want to encourage him to climb - just not onto a dining room table.
    – Zibbobz
    Oct 20, 2023 at 12:41
  • That' makes sense :)
    – A. Miller
    Oct 20, 2023 at 12:44
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I'm not sure there's much more to add than what has been said in the two excellent answers you've already received. So maybe to emphasise how not to give positive reinforcement when removing him from a chair/situation: pick him up from behind, not facing you, and keep him away from your body, like you might move an object. It's neutral, not positive, not negative. No talk except perhaps, "No climbing on chairs, please." Repeat until he gives up. If he thinks it's a game, make sure he doesn't see you smile or chuckle. Repeat as often as necessary.

He'll probably get frustrated and start to cry unless you provide something interesting for him to climb on. Thick foam pads on the floor that can be configured different ways are safe, and they're fun!

You can make climbing on the couch more interesting by putting attractive toys on the top back, or attach a slide to your couch. You might want to put pillows on the floor nearby in case he falls off.

Or you can let him climb up on the table (supervised of course). The up side to this is that it reinforces more skills than the alternatives; balance, coordination, agility and strength are all enhanced the harder it is to accomplish the climb. Make it a rule that he can only climb with a parent present. If he's not talking much yet, don't worry, he will understand what you're saying (even if he doesn't obey). Make sure he knows how to climb down off a chair by practicing so you can ask/tell him "No climbing chairs without Mommy or Daddy", and if you're really brave, teach him to climb off the table safely as well. At 2 years of age, children are old enough to understand and learn these concepts and behaviors.

My kids were allowed to climb everything (well, not bookcases or things that could fall on them, though these were all affixed to the walls), but I made sure they knew how to get down safely. That way, my heart didn't race as often as it might otherwise. ;)

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    I wish those weren't so expensive - we're trying to save for Christmas and an anniversary trip - but I do appreciate the advice on how to avoid positive re-enforcement and encourage certain ways of climbing.
    – Zibbobz
    Oct 20, 2023 at 16:42
  • My next door neighbors have a set, and the kids, both preschoolers, love them. It's all fun and games until the older one uses the cushions to knock over the younger one. :sigh: I doubt children will ever change. Oct 20, 2023 at 23:35
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What I've learned recently from some parenting workshops is that words can really change a situation.

If your 2yr old son understands the words "I will not let you" -- it can be powerful messaging when said in a gentle, caring voice.

"I will not let you climb the table because it is not safe."

In fact, for any future behavior that your son may engage in that you would rather he not -- those words are like magic, especially for my now 5 year old son.

"I will not let you hurt yourself."

This has been working MUCH better than:

"Please, stop" (he already did it, confusing)

"Please, don't do that" (same)

"We don't do that" (same)

"Please, get off the table" (regardless of please, can be demanding)

Other phrases you can try that have been transformative for us:

"My job is to keep you safe." (understanding roles)

"What will happen if you climb on the table?" (setting expectations, thinking through consequences before hand)

I do think that finding alternative climbing options, like others have mentioned, is also a great idea and worth pursuit.

Good luck!

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