We are pleased with a powerful sense of his curiosity in our 10 month old son, but his curiosity makes ​​him want to touch/play everything, including items that are dangerous or dirty.

When he touches or plays with something we consider harmful or dirty, we often forbid him to play with it and we move him and encourage play elsewhere. When we ban the play or item in words it doesn't work. He just turns around and smiles, but he's still touching a dangerous or dirty thing.

The idea to limit his play area with a fence has been discussed, but we worry that will limit his creativity.

We want to implement a self awareness for our children, so they can learn to distinguish between safe and unsafe, dirty and clean themselves. Since we have this goal, should we let it go and if later on something happens to make him cry, will he learn and understand the cause of his discomfort?

Can this kind of learning style be applied early on children? If not, at what age can we implement it?

And is there any other recommendations regarding self-awareness education?

5 Answers 5


Don't tolerate disobedience. If the child doesn't obey you then that is a separate problem to be addressed! Children need to play with dirty things too, but I think 10 months is too young for this. You are not limiting your child's creativity. You can soften your rules when the child grows a little older -- old enough to understand what danger is, or at least old enough to obey you.

Staircases, kitchen knives, cleaning liquids, cat litter box, and so on. There are many dangers, but the rules are always the same:

  1. Clean the dirty items if possible, otherwise remove them or block access to them.
  2. Remove the dangerous items if possible, otherwise block access to them.

You're the parent. If you feel that items or areas are not healthy for your child, then it's your responsibility to take action against it. Don't feel bad about blocking access to any room. If your home gives you no choice then put a gate in the door-frame of the child's room.

  • 7
    Don't tolerate disobedience? This is a ten month old. Not a four year old. If there's something they don't want him to play with, it shouldn't be within reach
    – Kevin
    Aug 6, 2012 at 14:56
  • 2
    @Kevin: You're absolutely correct. But I had the impression that the asker lets the child touch anyway, without taking actions against it, so I felt it needed to be said. Also, obedience needs to be trained early on, otherwise you're going to have a hard time prohibiting things that used to be tolerated. Aug 6, 2012 at 15:52
  • I was alarmed at the "Don't tolerate disobedience" phrase as well, but I think he Torben meant you make a few rules, and make them very strict. "No knives" is one of them, and there is no absolutely no leeway or being nice about forbidding this.
    – bobobobo
    Aug 28, 2012 at 5:02
  • @bobobobo: Precisely. Thanks for this clarification! I ought to clean up my answer - later. Aug 28, 2012 at 7:06

At 10mo the cognitive development of a child's brain is not capable of comprehending or responding to discipline effectively. It's all about managing the environment. That's not to say you can't try to communicate and begin to form the cognitive capabilities. But a frowny face will be just as, if not more, affective as voice tone. (Mirror neurons are the key to this and visual is key.) A dog has a better chance of learning and responding to "No" than a 10mo old.

The good news is that if your child is an explorer wanting to touch and play with everything that's a great sign that the little brain is trying to form understanding of the world. The opposite would be of concern. Obviously it's your responsibility to control for dangerous things, but by all means let them explore. Get dirty. Eat dirt. It's natural and healthy. Reflexive/Experiential learning is the primary stage of learning development at that age.

Check out these books: "NurtureShock", "Brain Rules", "Children's Play: The Roots of Reading ", and "The Evolving Self". Learn about Mirror Neurons from "Mirroring People".

  • Ooops left off the best book: "The Whole Brain Child" by Daniel Siegel Aug 7, 2012 at 0:09
  • You can click the edit link underneath your answer to make changes; no need to put it in a comment. Aug 7, 2012 at 7:39

With both my children, once they gained mobility they wanted to explore everything. Any cupboard or drawer in reach was opened, anything on the ground went in the mouth, anything that could be picked up, torn, or shattered was duly so done. Just keeping your eye on them wasn't enough; inevitably you'd turn your back and they'd be heading up the staircase or eating the cat food or digging out plants.

So... like others have said, you've got to child proof everything. If you have fences, use them! Arrange your furniture into walls so you can keep them in the family room while you empty the dish washer. Block the stairs so they can't climb up, and put a very sturdy fence at the top of the stairs. Put locks on the knife drawer and the cupboard where the glass bowls are.

Don't think of this as limiting them; actually by being so defensive you can allow them freedom to roam and be independent, without needing to intervene continually. Instead of scolding and corrective interactions, you can supply positive encouragement and assist them in their explorations. Leave a few cupboards unlocked with safe things (metal pans, plastic containers).

A parenting book I read had a point that, at this early age, "The child's environment is the best teacher". It gives reliable, consistent feedback - when you bonk your head on the table it always hurts, and always hurts the same way. Allowing the child the freedom to explore safely, even if incurring a few bumps and bruises, is good and natural and will help them develop both mentally and physically.

Once and a while, and under very close supervision, allow them extra freedom to climb the stairs, explore forbidden areas, and dig through the locked up cupboards. For instance, the drawer with the cat food gets opened at cat feeding time, and my son gets to help with this duty. Explain the items, why they're dangerous or fragile, and why they have to be kept safe.


To me the key is how harmful a specific thing is to the toddler. There are things / actions which can kill him instantly or mutilate him badly - these of course must be avoided or moved out of reach, as others already explained. Things like stairs, knives, boiling water, electricity etc. fall into this category.

Then there are things which look unpleasant to us adults, and/or may even cause some harm to her, but nothing really bad or irreversible. These are actually most likely useful for her to explore - in a safe, supervised environment, of course - because this is how he learns.

  • Playing with water on a hot summer day and soaking his clothes is unpleasant for us adults, because it gives us "extra" work. To her, it is a great learning experience.
  • Trying to touch a candle flame may get a blister on his finger in the worst case - and make him learn once and for all to be careful with hot items (much better than any explanation or ban by dad).
  • Touching - or even eating - dirt, mud or sand gives him sensory experiences, and at the same time makes his immune system confront with new agents, substances and living organisms, thus learn. (Of course, if e.g. a cat pissed into the sand before, don't let him play with it. But regular, non-contaminated stuff is OK.)
  • Bumping into objects hurts, but again this teaches him to control and coordinate his movements and navigate in space.

If he's playing with something you don't want him to play with, then just saying no isn't going to work especially if he's young. He's still going to want to play with it. You need to redirect him into playing with something else.

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