Every child goes through the “Pull everything out of the cupboard” stage. This stage is sometimes known as the “tornado toddler” or “hurricane toddler” stage. This stage usually starts once toddlers can move things by themselves, and may last for many years. They are curious about their environment, and are becoming more independently mobile. Part of this behavior is a based in a normal curiosity toddlers have to explore and learn. And part of this behavior is a desire to play with others – and not knowing how to do so. Here are some tips I’ve used to tame my tornado toddlers so that I remained sane, and my toddlers could still grow and explore.
Create Exploration Areas
These are areas where it’s okay for the toddler to dump things out and move around the toys exploring. I use big plastic bins to hold my baby’s toys. When she wants to play in the bin, we dump the toys out. These exploration areas include the expectation that the child will help pick up what has been pulled out. This teaches the child that learning and playing are great, but that when the child is done what was played with gets put away. At the end of play time we put the toys back in. This takes time and patience, because of course Mommy can pick everything up a lot more quickly by herself, but then baby never learns the natural consequences of pulling everything out. It also creates a habit of picking up after oneself that will become invaluable when the child has homework, backpacks, jackets, etc.
I also have my kitchen set up so that the bottom cupboards are full of plastic containers, and bowls–things that cannot break. I’ve put them into bigger bins, so that when my baby is done playing with them, cleanup is easy. When I’m in cooking, my baby is usually in the kitchen with me pulling these things out of the cupboards and playing with them. And it’s okay, because all I need to do is chuck the containers back into the bin. I’m not worried about how they appear in the cupboard, so that helps speed up the cleanup. The wake of destruction caused by the little tornado is limited when cleanup is fast, and what is pulled out is managed a little.
Explore with the child
When a toddler is just pulling things out and moving on to the next thing, a lot of times it’s because the toddler wants to learn about that item, but doesn’t know how to interact with it. To stop the toddler from making a complete mess of everything, get down on the same level with the toddler and help the toddler explore the item they are showing interest in. This fills the toddler’s need to explore and understand the world, plus it gives the toddler some one-on-one attention.
My 14 month old recently took to taking all the children’s books off of the bookshelf. She wanted to explore the books – how they felt, and what they did. She started taking the books off the shelf and bringing them close to me and stacking them on the floor. Now, I had two choices. I could have gotten frustrated and made her stop her exploration and put the books back. Or, I could have engaged her about the books – talked to her about the colors on the cover, showed her some of the pictures, talked to her about the way the books and pages felt.
I chose the second option. We sat together for 30 minutes, just stacking and talking about the books. We never actually read a book. When I had to go away to another task, my husband took over for me, and they sat for another 20 minutes stacking and unstacking the books. When she finished, she happily put every book back on the bookshelf with my husband. Added bonus, because she was allowed to satisfy her curiosity about the bookshelf, she hasn’t gone back to pulling everything off the shelf again. Now, she brings me one or two books and wants me to read them to her – just the way books are supposed to be used.
Eliminate some of the stimulation
Sometimes, toddlers go into this frenzied behavior, and pull everything off the shelves, because they are overwhelmed and overstimulated. Before buying another toy for a child, ask if this is a toy that is going to make a lot of noise, or has a lot of parts, or a lot of flashing lights. These attributes have a tendency to overwhelm and over stimulate a child.
Also, the number of toys children have is directly related to the size of chaos they can create with those toys. The child may go along pulling out toy after toy because they are looking for a specific toy, and can’t find it. If the child has fewer toys, then they won’t need to do that as much anymore. Having a lot of toys out only overwhelms the child and makes the toys less approachable. A way we deal with this a toy rotation. We put toys into a bin, and put the bin into the garage. After about three months, we switch the toys in the bin with the toys in the house. All of the sudden, all of my children love the “new” toys.
How about you? How do you deal with your “tornado toddlers”?[metaslider id=1658]