You’ll hear it from every parent of a toddler at some point or another, often with a strong note of exasperation: ‘he’s getting into everything!’ And the more mobile baby becomes, the more things he ‘gets into.’ But what’s behind all this ‘mischievous’ behaviour and is there a way to approach it that brings less frustration for everyone?

What it looks like: Baby is drawn towards anything new or perhaps mysterious. He will forgo all other ‘real toys’ in his quest to touch, taste and likely dismantle these forbidden treasures.

Mistaken for: Wanting things just because they’re forbidden; liking to create mess and chaos.

What baby is learning: He is learning about the environment around him as he explores it. Granted, his version of exploration looks different than yours or mine would but don’t let that fool you into thinking that there’s no pattern or reasoning behind it. Exploration is what baby is hard-wired to do, but he doesn’t yet know what is and isn’t appropriate to explore. That’s where you come in.

How to support: It’s important to remember that baby doesn’t designate between items that are ‘toys’ and ones that are not. In his mind, if he’s interested in manipulating an item then it qualifies as a toy. Therefore, telling him that an item ‘is not a toy’ is probably not going to be extremely effective in getting him to stop playing with it. Whenever possible, take the time to supervise baby as he explores some of these unconventional toys. But remember that this is a two-way relationship and that if baby exploring your freshly folded laundry 5 minutes before you have to leave is going to frustrate you and maybe even cause resentment, then that is a perfectly good reason to say ‘no’. Perhaps you could take out some unused clothes for him to sort through when you return.
Ideally we would keep anything that we didn’t want baby to get into out of his reach but that’s not possible all of the time. However, there is something that comes pretty close. One of the best pieces of advice I have come across with respect to babies is creating a safe space: an enclosed area with appropriate toys where baby can move about freely and safely. Depending on your circumstances this may be a travel cot or it may be a whole room. But the idea is that it’s somewhere he can play uninterrupted, where no one is going to tell him ‘no, don’t touch that.’ It may seem odd to gate your baby into an enclosed area but I’m not talking about dropping your baby in there and leaving him (although the benefit is that if you have to use the bathroom or answer the phone you know he’s safe and don’t have to interrupt his play). I can say from personal experience that once you’ve seen the freedom a safe space provides for both you and baby you’ll never go back.