My very strong-willed 2 yr 10 mo. old son is curious about everything in his environment, which crops up as a problem now and then if something delicate, expensive, or dangerous comes into it. Eye glasses, cell phones, computer electronics, tools...

He'll take the item and start examining it; sometimes this . Invariably an adult will cry out, "Put that down!" or similar, but rather than obey his instinct is to hide the object behind his back and/or run away. Then, if chased, he throws the item (discarding the evidence of his misdeed?)

I'd like to hear if other parents have had this problem, how they dealt with it effectively?

[Update] So what I've taken to doing these past couple days when he takes something is, "Oh! , do you know what that is called?" This gives him pause. "What?" Then I tell him the name as I move closer to him. "Do you want to know where that goes?" I put my hand on his shoulder or back (just in case). "Yeah!" Then with my other hand I point to a specific spot on a table or desk. "That goes right here." Then when he puts it down I give him a "Good job!" or "Thank you!" and either pick him up or give him a hug. This has been working well so far.

As per some of the suggested answers, when new things come into the house I'm also going to try to proactively give them to him to look while I can supervise him, on the theory that once his curiosity is satisfied the danger will lessen.

[Update #2] He's now nearly 8 years old and has a little sister a couple years younger. The technique I described in Update #1 mostly worked (as long as we didn't freak out and directed him elsewhere, he'd lose interest in the item).

HOWEVER, this same behavior still crops up used with his sister. He'll snatch some random item she's interested in - a toy, blanket, article of clothes, whatever - and run off with it chortling as she chases, screams, and cries. (And she in turn has learned to do the same to him.) I'd actually forgotten about this earlier behavior but in hindsight it's probably the same thing. We've had to just instill in him that the "Snatch Game" is one of the worst misbehaviors he can do with a very stern talking to, that police throw people in jail for doing it, etc.; I can now just ask, "You're not playing the snatch game again, are you?" and he immediately hands the item back to his sister.

All in all, this was a tricky behavior to punish because half the motivation is to stir up a reaction, and a harsh punishment (or threat thereof) is an acceptably exciting reaction to get.

  • 2
    4 months later, perhaps due to the techniques mentioned here he exhibits this behavior a LOT less often. (Now it's grabbing a pen and something we don't want him to write on.) Endearingly, he has turned his talent to taking dangerous things away from his little sister and returning them to us.
    – Bryce
    Nov 21, 2012 at 10:01
  • Just curious, which tips worked?
    – SAH
    Aug 22, 2017 at 6:46
  • 1
    What I described in my Update ended up working the best for him at that age. His personality ended up being very much a rules follower. Ultimately most of the behavior change needed to be by the parents rather than the child. ;-)
    – Bryce
    Aug 22, 2017 at 18:30
  • Thank Gd, I'm very glad to hear you ended up with a good child! ;)
    – SAH
    Aug 22, 2017 at 18:38
  • Oh don't get me wrong, it is possible for a kid to go overboard with rules following, especially when it comes to ones younger sibling. "Son, let me do the parenting please," is a frequent refrain... ;-)
    – Bryce
    Aug 22, 2017 at 20:34

4 Answers 4


General Rule: Positive reinforcement works well, negative reinforcements makes children not want to get caught. Right now, the only positive feedback that exists is the attention the child gets for throwing the items, and you want to ensure that they get the reward of your attention not for misbehaving, but for acting properly.

Suggestion: In this case, perhaps you can try modeling the behavior with something that isn't a problem. Watch the child pick something innocuous up, and gently tell the child that they should put it down. When they do so, reward them for listening. Reinforce this reward for listening every time they put something down when asked - the behavior is a general one, and you want to reinforce it.

If the child does not obey, the reward is withheld, obviously, and a small punishment for not obeying can be applied - but remember that negative reinforcement isn't an effective way to get a child to obey over time periods longer than a couple minutes - it's a way to motivate them to try to not get caught.

  • 1
    +1 on the positive reinforcement! I forgot to mention that, but it's very important. We always thank our daughter for complying with they rules, and make a small fuss of her when she does the right things. It not only rewards us with better behaviour from her, but boosts her confidence, and ensures she doesn't see herself as a "naughty" girl. Jun 28, 2012 at 2:23

The working strategies for my child were the following:

  • Lock stuff away: Dangerous things and things we don't trust our child to handle are locked away, i.e. put behind doors, on high shelves etc. Especially the latter category tends to get smaller over time.
  • Practice: For many things a version suitable for children exists, such as knives, scissors and the like. Practice with your child and let him play with them, so he gets confident using it (and you get confident in him). Also let him help you, when you use things, e.g. when you set the table. That way he is aware what things are actually for and he knows he is allowed use them, when appropriate - for instance I no longer put my mobile away, since my son knows that we cannot call his grandparents anymore when it breaks.
  • Let him be: Let's face it - most things are actually replaceable and often we are only concerned about inconvenience: If a flower pot is turned upside down, so what - let him help you clean it up. If touching a cactus is unpleasent, but not dangerous - let him, he'll notice. If an everyday plate breaks, it breaks - no big deal. In my experience there are surpringly few things that are actually damaged beyond repair. If you notice however that your child has actually fun breaking things, react accordingly, e.g. let him only use the "baby"-plates, do not allow him to help you etc..
  • Stay calm: Already mentioned, but cannot be stressed enough - if you stay calm, so will your child which lowers the chance of damage.
  • Let him know that no means no: With the above hints, no can become a relatively infrequent word, which means it is more effective. If my child still doesn't put something down that is immediately dangerous or belongs to somebody else after the first no, I'll take it from him and lateron, when things calmed down, explain the why. In less urgent cases I'll announce consequences (e.g. if it's a book, then reading before bed might get skipped).

Essentially your child should know his boundaries and respect your word - getting to this point however goes beyond the scope of this question.

  • All good points, we've started letting him get his own silverware. We've worried about him getting stuff out of drawers and getting hurt, but he already gets into them a lot, so we're treating it as a learning opportunity. Mama directed him to get his own fork this morning, and I think he really liked being able to be self sufficient on that.
    – Bryce
    Jun 26, 2012 at 20:22

I know this problem very well with my 2 year old girl! She's very curious- which is natural- with all "grown up" things, like cell phones, glasses, etc.

We haven't found a cure all yet- in fact I don't know that there is one! How ever, we have found something that works a lot of the time.

When she grabs expensive items, it's our first reaction to want to say loudly, "Put that down!", but if we can control ourselves and not do that it helps. Then we just quietly and casually walk over to her, get down at her level, and tell her in a firm but not angry or loud voice that she needs to give the item to us, because it's for adults and not her. If she doesn't hand us the item, we will remind her that if she doesn't listen to us, she'll have to go to her room. Then we'll count to 3, and remove the item from her hands and pop her in her room for 2 minutes if she doesn't comply.

As I said, it doesn't work 100% of the time, but it does work most of the time. Hope that helps :-)

  • Yes, the 1-2-3 count works well for most misbehaviors but for this taken item problem it ends up working more like a launch countdown. :-) But +1 on the advice to stay calm, that seems important.
    – Bryce
    Jun 25, 2012 at 20:19

In addition to the checked answer, I would also suggest a rule of "looking but no touching" - Especially in public places and with breakable items at home. A child does not need to (nor should he) touch everything in order to find out about it. My daughter has always known that when in stores or at a friends house she must always ask if she can touch something, but if she is curious she can look closely without permission. You need to be able to walk into a gift shop and know your child won't be picking everything up that interests him/her.

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