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The Writing on the Wall

When Aidan Paulk was 2, he loved to see what kind of marks he could make with pencils, pens, and crayons. The only problem: He sometimes chose the walls of his Portland, OR, home as a canvas.

"He wasn't trying to be naughty," says his mom, Linda. "I think he just saw the walls as a big, blank drawing surface."

Indeed, when toddlers are scribbling racing stripes down the hall or connecting the dots of the dining-room wallpaper, they aren't showing off their talents or rebelling against house rules. They're testing out new skills, in the wrong place.

"Two-year-olds see little difference between using a wall, a newspaper, or a scrap of paper," says Howard Sloane, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Behavioral Studies, in Cambridge, MA. "They haven't begun to distinguish between appropriate and unacceptable places for their creations." To clear up the confusion:

DRAW THE LINE

Take your toddler back to the scene of the crime (if you don't catch him in the act) and firmly but calmly say, "We don't write on walls."

CLEAN UP TOGETHER

Instead of reprimanding your child, have him help you eliminate at least some of the mess.

ILLUSTRATE ALTERNATIVES

When you've finished cleaning up, show him where you'd like him to do his artwork: Pull out his coloring books, butcher paper, or other art supplies and take him to the kitchen table or a designated play area.

ELIMINATE TEMPTATION

Put away crayons, pencils, and markers as soon as playtime is over, and bring them out again only when you have the time to supervise your child. Another option: When your doodler is drawing, temporarily close off certain rooms or other areas of the house where he likes to wander and leave his mark.

APPLAUD THE POSITIVE

Whenever your toddler draws on the correct surfaces, be sure to praise him, then hang his pictures on the refrigerator or buy him a new coloring book or pencil set. With this kind of enthusiastic feedback, it shouldn't be long before the walls lose their luster.

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