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The Bright Side of Bad Behavior

Wrecking People's Stuff

The bad behavior: In 10 years as a preschool teacher and many more invested in raising three boys of her own, Penny Luse of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has seen more than her share of toppled block towers. "Every year we have this problem," she says. "There's just something about a tower someone else has been working on that some kids can't resist." A destructive streak can extend far beyond block towers to include things like just-picked-up toys, alphabetically arranged CDs, and even the apples in the fruit bowl. Objects that are arranged "just so" seem to drive certain kids to distraction.

The bright side: From the time they realize they can wiggle their fingers and toes at will, children are fascinated to learn what they can and can't influence and control. Knocking things over and wreaking havoc on the neatly organized parts of your home is just another extension of that same desire to test their sphere of influence. As your child experiments, he's getting his first lessons in gravity and physics  -- and also in how it makes other people feel when you wreck their stuff. Fortunately, almost all kids outgrow this phase, usually by first grade.

How to handle it: If your child is more interested in demolition than construction, make sure he knows that he's welcome to build his own creations just to knock them down. But other people's work is off-limits. It's often possible to see this kind of thing coming, and the best-case scenario is to step in before the disaster and redirect your child to something else. If you arrive on the scene too late, let him help rebuild or rearrange the mess he's made and encourage him to apologize to the thwarted builder. It's not always possible to put something back just the way it was, but cleaning up and making it right will help him begin to think about the effort that goes into constructing the things he so loves to destroy.