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Pushing Buttons, Turning Knobs

Reed Thomas, 2, of Oakland, CA, is fascinated with the family vacuum cleaner. His favorite activity is flipping the power switch off and on  -- usually while his mother's trying to use it.

"Most toddlers like to fool around with mechanisms and machines, and it teaches them a few important lessons," says Alan Fogel, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. By flicking a light switch, for instance, they learn about cause and effect. They're also discovering that their actions can make interesting things happen  -- and they like to reaffirm that power by doing it again and again.

But having your little one constantly turn on the dishwasher or take the phone off the hook can be frustrating  -- and occasionally dangerous. To safely satisfy her urge:

  • Childproof When possible, move all off-limits items out of her reach: Put floor lamps behind sofas, fans and printers on shelves, and TVs and VCRs in cabinets.

  • Create supervised encounters Let her turn on the vacuum cleaner, the microwave, or the coffeemaker for you. Just remind her that she's allowed to do it only when you say it's okay. (Then be sure to move portable items back out of reach.)

  • Redirect her Consider getting her her own toy dishwasher, laundry center, or lawn mower, as well as a busy box or other toys that have multiple levers, knobs, and dials. Then sit back and relax: Now she can push those buttons to her heart's content  -- without pushing yours.
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