Sunday, June 10, 2007

Children playing in fridges

Mother of a toddler says
"what do I do? My child keeps playing in the fridge"

I think it's a really normal phase for a child to be interested in emptying things out of the fridge.

In this situation, I would get to the fridge quickly, and quietly remove eggs, anything liquid in an open container, and put them somewhere cool (sink of cold water for open milk cartons maybe?) and then I would turn the fridge off and give the child a LARGE tupperware container or washing up bowl to put the food in.

At first, you may well have to help with putting them into the bowl rather than having them strewn across the floor. Encourage child to experiment with tasting butter/cheese/vegetables/fruit (some children like eating raw onion, garlic, brussel sprouts, cabbage at this age...).

When all the food is out of the fridge, help them put it all back. Rinse and repeat.Honestly, if it wasn't for these sorts of passing interests in our children, we'd all have fridges full of archeological specimens we'd forgotten all about... (or maybe that's just me)

(and think in your mind that this exploration is not likely to last more than a month. It might be significantly less time. Anything really perishable can go in the freezer for a couple of hours)

"no, this is a terrible idea. Children should not explore in fridges"

Why are there forbidden zones which a child should not be helped to explore safely?

...those no go areas vary from person to person. For some people it's going in the fridge at all. For some people going in the fridge is ok, as long as it's with the parent controlling what they do in it (and I'm in that camp to an extent, since I'd quietly remove open yoghurt pots before the child noticed), but for some mothers the whole kitchen is a forbidden area and the child is left crying outside a stairgate.

... which means that the "need to leave alone" is not that the child needs to leave it alone for some rational universal reason.

Speeding lorry advancing at 40 miles an hour - every parent would see the middle of the road as a no go for their child at that moment - the child needs to leave the middle of the road alone in order to stay alive, and parent would be right to force their child back on the pavement in the heat of that moment. But the fridge scenario is not black and white at all.


It's a fridge not a toy. I can't see any rational person entertaining their
child by letting them into the fridge. And it has nothing to do with road safety.

If a child is really keen to get in the fridge and play with the objects in it, I think it is better to find a way for that to happen which makes both parent and child happy rather than to make child very distressed over what is actually parent's arbitrary limitation.

There are all sorts of ways of keeping the food cool while playing in and around the fridge. I'd slip meat into the freezer as soon as it came out of the fridge. I'd probably grab a bag of Tesco economy frozen peas out of the freezer (like about 60p worth of peas) and use them to form a cool cushion at the bottom of the container the food was going into. If this game looked likely to be played tomorrow as well, I'd make a HEAP of ice cubes that night so I could keep the stuff cool for no money at all. The child might even get more interested in the ice cubes than the food, at which point the fridge could be filled and shut and turned on again.

That's just in a 2 minute brainstorm. If this was a real situation in my house, I'd be putting a lot of creative energy into making a good solution for everyone because a) tantrums are exhausting for everyone, children and parents and b) what an opportunity for a child to learn all sorts of things about colours and shapes and textures and tastes and counting and stacking and... so many things our children do can be embraced as learning opportunities rather than things we have to stop them doing and c) it'll be a passing phase. The more the parent helps their child explore whatever the phase is safely and fully, the less likely the child is to want to go back to it again and again and again, when parent's back is turned, eventually finding a way past the fridge lock and destroying a week's worth of groceries.

And no, road safety has NOTHING to do with fridge locks or household safety - that was exactly my point! There's a black and white "children must not be left in the path of speeding lorries". There is no clear right and wrong here - there's no obvious "children mustn't play in fridges because they'll die" - there are only the limitations of their parents' willingness to make it possible for them to explore in this particular environment.

And as for toy/not toy - that's an arbitrary distinction too, as every child (along with any adult who has ever put a 1 year old on a kitchen floor with a metal saucepan and two wooden spoons) knows.

19 comments:

stacy said...

I find that when I make that sort of arbitrary rule (and I do sometimes, though I'm working on it), it's only because my parents made the same rule, not because I have any real reason to do so. I do things very differently when I put a little thought into it before I act.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why any parent needs to ask advice in a forum on how to say "no" and remove the child from the situation if that's what they want to do?

Your creativity is excelent but I sometimes worry that by thinking that whatever activity toddlers wants to engage in is good for them, you might be thinking of toddlers as infalible human beings.

Many people don't play with the fridge when they are little and eventually everyone will learn what they are for and use it. It's not something you can create a hang up about.

As for giving your toddler a good time in the present moment, which is probably the more genuine concern, it's also worth mentioning that traditional games that were passed from generation to generation are not only fun but very important for their development, so it's probably better to lots of those. Nobody talks about them anymore, what happened?

As much as I don't like charts and age expectations, some physical growth that happens with the body, the brain included, only happens before a certain age.

I was only allowed to use the fridge when I was old enough to be able to not drop things, mess things up, understand why the door stays closed, etc. I still think there is something good in this attitude. As adults, we wouldn't be allowed to perform a surgery, even if you wanted it, unless you studied for it.

It's quite fun to see your child as a little scientist, but with the high incidence of mental disorders and brain tumours nowadays, I would really rewind back in time and try to look at what people could possibly be doing then that was good and that we are missing now.

Anonymous said...

Pretend that the above was actually written in good English. :P

emma said...

"Pretend that the above was actually written in good English. :P" rofl. OK.

In these forums, parents are often posting about the terrible things their children have done in the hope that other parents will give them emotional support "oh, it's so difficult - they are little monsters aren't they?" That's why they post, I think. And that's why I only post in such places occasionally, and either get completely flamed, or get PMs asking me where I got my wonderful ideas from...

I probably didn't give enough context in this case. The child REALLY wanted to play in the fridge - nothing else would do. If a toddler starts doing something the parent isn't dead keen on, and the parent can think of something the toddler will prefer, then that's the ideal. Or if parent can persuade toddler to think of something else they'll prefer (probably non-verbal communication going on there, that's why I'm saying it a bit hazily). This is common preference finding.

But when the parent has offered bubbles and painting and cake and playdough and everything else they can think of that they'd prefer, and the toddler standing by the fridge door about to cry frantically, then it is better for the parent to find a way for the child to play in the fridge without hurting anyone or anything than to give the child a tantrum.

And yes, it's important to explain at child's level about the cold escaping, or the food getting hot and yucky, and all the other things - I don't think there's a magic age when that's possible, but I do think it might involve quite a lot of non-verbal creativity on the part of the parent. Children can perfectly well learn about hot and cold and food going yucky at a very young age. Squishy strawberry anyone? eurgh.

I guess when children are playing traditional games, like building blocks and cars and dolls and whatever, the parents think "ah, (s)he's playing properly" - it's not something they'd complain about or discuss, yk? But we can build on the collective knowledge of cool stuff to do, and not be limited by it.

Children are little scientists, if by scientist you mean a rational person making sense of the world around them as best they can, growing knowledge in a Popperian way :-) It's just that adults interfere with that process every five minutes by being arbitrary and punitive and controlling.

stacy said...

I think Emma's point is that there is always a solution to any problem that is acceptable to everyone concerned. It doesn't have to be the parent's rules that get followed, especially when child doesn't understand the rules in the first place.

So kid wants to play in the fridge, mom doesn't want food to spoil, figure out how both of those things can happen simultaneously. The problems most parents face happen when the adult wants their authority respected, "because I said so" instead of taking the time to find a mutually-agreeable solution to the situation.

The authoritarian way of raising kids is what I feel is to blame for the atrocious abuses of power that the masses are accepting from our governments right now. My kids will not become sheep, they are autonomous human beings and deserve, above all, my respect. It seems all the problems in the world could be resolved if more people only believed that their autonomy should be respected, rather than looking to an authority figure of some type or another to tell them what to do.

Anonymous said...

"The child REALLY wanted to play in the fridge - nothing else would do."

It's REALLY either the case of the parent who fears causing a "state of coercion" because the toddler is about to cry, or the more conventional parent who wants to enforce discipline but is too shy to actually do what it takes consistently (they also rather not have the child crying but for the sake of their own ears).

I know how toddlers concentrate in activities and they don't even care to notice their parents existence anymore until someone picks them up and carries them away. They also might not notice there's something else they rather do until they are removed from the original situation.

If you let the fridge become such a strong interest that no other activity will do it can become an unhealthy obsession.

If your toddler develops such odd preferences, it can be harder for them to relate and play with others.

And who says the toddler is going to be happy while you quietly remove the eggs? That's what he might want to do, to smash the eggs. Then what? He might want to spill the milk! Then what? He might care less for your tupperware and just want to climb the shelves or close himself inside the fridge. Then what?

"So kid wants to play in the fridge, mom doesn't want food to spoil, figure out how both of those things can happen simultaneously."

In all those moments you are problem solving, the toddler might cry when you interfere, no matter how gently and common-preferency you are trying to do it.

Why even try to explain to a toddler what fridges are for and why food spoils, when that can be done so much easily later?

"The problems most parents face happen when the adult wants their authority respected, 'because I said so' instead of taking the time to find a mutually-agreeable solution to the situation."

No, the problem with most authoritarian parents is that they don't know what to do with their children. They don't know how to play with them, they don't know how to help them learn, they don't know how to enjoy them, they don't understand they are yet to learn many basic things about the world.

They focus on the trouble their children give them and they focus on petty housewife problems like these.

"My kids will not become sheep"

Not even popperian sheep? :P

No person is a sheep. People live their lives according to their own wit and resources.

I have never met anyone who likes to have others tell them what to do. They want authority to stop others, not themselves, from doing things they don't like and they think that interferes with their wellbeing.

Toddlers have a lot of basic things to learn about the world. I really don't think you stall the growth of knowledge by not taking the fridge or any other domestic enterprise they want to take so seriously. I actually suspect the opposite might happen.

emma said...

This is the me bit, I’ll leave Stacy to answer the anonymous response to her post

“It's REALLY either the case of the parent who fears causing a "state of coercion" because the toddler is about to cry, or the more conventional parent who wants to enforce discipline but is too shy to actually do what it takes consistently”

1. Isn’t it better to find a common preference than to coerce a child?
2. No, I don’t think conventional parents are “shy”. I think they are often inconsistent because their rules ARE arbitrary, and their children see through the because-I-said-so smokescreen. They undermine their own authority.


“They also might not notice there's something else they rather do until they are removed from the original situation.”

I would ideally respect a person’s physical autonomy unless they are in physical danger or in a really forbidden zone (like, trying to climb on a moving luggage belt at the airport with signs all over it saying “do not climb on the luggage belt” yk?) I would bring alternative suggestions to where the person is.

“If you let the fridge become such a strong interest that no other activity will do it can become an unhealthy obsession.”

The conversation I was having was with a mother who had repeatedly said no to her child over several months. The mother hadn’t let the fridge become a strong interest; the child had got really interested in it without the slightest encouragement. I really hate use of the word “obsession” wrt small children. It is a way of belittling their discovery of the world, and a way of pouring scorn on their passing interests without trying to understand or help them. “Oh, he’s obsessed with cars”. Pointless. If child is interested in cars, don’t complain to your mama friends about it in that snide way, find ways of helping him spend time in cars, spend time with match box cars, have car painting sets, whatever it might be to fully explore that interest. There’s an amazing site which has a video of a car engine being put together. That sort of thing.

“If your toddler develops such odd preferences, it can be harder for them to relate and play with others.”

Like I said, the toddler in question developed the preference, as far as I could tell from the OP, without anyone helping them develop it at all. In such a case, I’d advocate helping them develop the preference safely.

“And who says the toddler is going to be happy while you quietly remove the eggs? That's what he might want to do, to smash the eggs. Then what? He might want to spill the milk! Then what? He might care less for your tupperware and just want to climb the shelves or close himself inside the fridge. Then what?”

Blah blah what if. I can invent answers to all of these if you want. Waste of time. If I do, you’ll only ask what happens if child wants to pull the electric plug out and stick metal skewers into the socket. Yada yada. I mean, do you really want to have the “what if?” conversation?

I'll leave the rest for Stacy :)

Anonymous said...

I find common preferences a wrong approach to the parental obligation.

I differ from conventional parents in that I think that causing distress to children on purpose for the adult's selfish reasons or solely thinking of pedagocial goals or the child as an the adult in progress.

I think common preferencing can be neglect in disguise. Some children will be happy with little.

If a mother is a Cordon Bleu cook and isn't really bothered to cook for her own children or even install a kitchen in the house, that's sad, no matter how posh are the ready meals she can afford.

You parental obligation is to share your very best knowledge with your children, and that includes your best skills.

"I would ideally respect a person’s physical autonomy unless they are in physical danger or in a really forbidden zone "

Of course.

But then it's not just the fridge that becomes an interest. It's the oven, it's the toilet, it's the bins outside, it's all sort of things that are not quite deadly or forbidden, but that perhaps give parents more trouble than it's worth. It can bring unecessary distress and waste of time.

None of those things kill but it seems to me that a mother is better off going to the park happily, without having to worry with bins, with a child that looks clean and healthy and other parents are happy to let their own children to play with, than one that is barefoot because he doesn't like to wear shoes, that is constantly doing bin trips and the parent is nervously getting any item they take off cleaned so they can explore it safely.

They should be playing ball, hide and seek behind the trees, making friends, not making themselves the loonies of the neighborhood.

"I think they are often inconsistent because their rules ARE arbitrary, and their children see through the because-I-said-so smokescreen. They undermine their own authority."

I do not really think a toddler can understand concepts like arbitrary suthority or see through any smokescreens.

"The conversation I was having was with a mother who had repeatedly said no to her child over several months."

There might be an exageration there. It just happened she thought that verbally stating a prohibition once would be enough for the child never want to try it again.

This is a mother who knows nothing of babyproofing. She should be suggested to put a lock on the fridge already, to say "the fridge is for big people" and to learn fun games she can play her toddler.

"There’s an amazing site which has a video of a car engine being put together."

You will really be wasting your time by showing this to a toddler.

You might be taking the child away from knowledge that can really be growing by thinking they can grow such complex knowledge when they can't yet.

Children really have to understand more basic things before they get the more complicated ones. It's not prejudice to realise this.

"Blah blah what if. I can invent answers to all of these if you want. Waste of time. If I do, you’ll only ask what happens if child wants to pull the electric plug out and stick metal skewers into the socket. Yada yada. I mean, do you really want to have the “what if?” conversation?"

Show me how far your creativity goes. :)

"What if" is an excuse for not wanting to solve problems that are too hard. Such problems exist. Eggs are fun to break. Milk is fun to spill. Next you will be persuading mothers to keep cheap food on the fridge so the kids can spoil it and the real food somewhere else they can't access it, right?

Kids do put stuff in sockets or those covers would not have been invented.

A consequence of problem solving the way you suggest is that kind of problem inflation. How do you deal with it?

What garantees that the well intented fridge exploration won't bring more tears that sucessfully distracting a child from it because you are a cool parent who knows lots of fun games and makes friends with the neighbors so the toddler has lots of fun kids to play with?

Anonymous said...

I differ from conventional parents in that I think that causing distress to children on purpose for the adult's selfish reasons or solely thinking of pedagocial goals or the child as an the adult in progress IS WRONG.

I forgot to end the sentence.

stacy said...

it depends on what you want your child to learn, I suppose. I want my kids to learn (and they have learned, quite well, and at very young ages) that there is always a solution that takes into account what everyone wants, that their wants are important, but no more important than those of everyone else. My children understand that cooperation, working with people instead of trying to get them to agree with your point of view, always works out best. They get it, it works.

Neglect happens when children either always gets their way or the adults alway gets theirs. This is something totally different we are talking about. Autonomy is not just about freedom, it's about respect. It's the golden rule, the only rule we really need.

I always explain to my children "why" and it's not that hard. I respect their intelligence and their ability to understand what I'm saying, and they have no problems with collaborative problem-solving, common preference finding, or whatever it is you want to call it. I'd go so far as to say that not answering all those "why?" questions actually hinders children from exploring and making the most of that natural instinct to learn.

I've addressed the people as sheep topic extensively in my blog and I'll not derail Emma's lovely blog with my long winded thoughts on that particular subject.

Anonymous said...

Something I think I forgot to say, is I agree with Emma in that we shouldn't call children's interests and preferences obsessions.

What happens is, the parents that are likely to hear your creative ideas, are usually from communities where the rate of childhood mental illness is very high.

It seems a trend around here, parents that don't discipline and are over empathic about their children's feelings, get them diagnosed something from the DSM.

Although they are likely to respect their children, they still contribute to the idea their children are little aliens because they don't fit at school or enjoy what are considered normal activities for children their age.

I think overall it's better to wait a child is older and certain interests would be more socially accepted.

I know I would have done better in relating with my family and my neighbors, instead of taking certain interests everyone considers not age appropriate so seriously and isolating ourselves.

Remember your kids have to live in society, make life easier for them.

BurningBright said...

I've been thinking about this discussion for a few days which has resulted in a clarification of how I approach parenting.

From the outset, I will state that I have a lock on my freezer (as it's closest to the floor) but not the fridge (which is above it). The lock is on the freezer after having found it left opened by my son who is 15 months.

The fridge, due to a mismeasurement when purchasing it, is in the utility room along with the washer/dryer and is accessed via a door from the kitchen.

My son explores everything and everywhere in the house. I like the fact that he can get out of sight and have personal time. I don't want to hover or crowd his learning.

With respect to a toddler who must get into the fridge or a tantrum results.... I think I would take the tantrum and I would do this bearing these questions in mind.

If we were at someone else's house, would I be able to implement the same approach I would use in my own house? If my approach was to empty the fridge so they could play/explore it, I don't think I would be able to offer the same approach elsewhere.
I think consistency of importance for children.

Would I be able to carry out the same approach if I had another child? I don't think I would be able to.

Yes I would try to involve the child in unloading the grocercies into the freezer, taking things out for supper and even in defrosting it, but I think using the freezer/fridge as it's meant to be used is of key importance.

BTW Emma, I admire your patience with the-my-child/baby/toddler-is-horrid/bad/a little moo- mums, it's something I lack.

emma said...

thank you for your comment burningbright!

I think it's important to explain to children whenever relevant that actions are context specific. We can walk in the road when it's a really quiet street and move to the pavement when we see or hear traffic, but on a busy road, we need to stay on the pavement - the vital thing isn't that it's a road, but that itdoes or doesn't have traffic.

So my fridge being accessible to any children who feel like exploring it (not that this is a frequent occurence by any means) can and should be understood by those children as context specific, and it only takes "that's not OUR fridge, it's Aunt Vera's fridge" to explain that other people's fridges aren't similarly accessible. Even supposing that child shows the slightest interest in Aunt Vera's fridge. And let's face it, there are going to be enough other interesting and permitted places to explore in Aunt vera's house that it's really unlikely to be a big deal.

In other words, I'd avoid the tantrum NOW in finding a true common preference rather than attempting to teach some abstract universal lesson about the inaccessibility of every fridge. I'd take each situation as it arises.

However consistent I am, the world outside isn't. Children are smart enough to figure that out :)

emma said...

hypothetical:

given an enormous stack of eggs in egg boxes, how many eggs do you think a child will break before they lose interest in the game? how many will they break before they get interested in breaking eggs into bowls and then scrambling/frying/poaching those eggs and maybe eating them? Or adding flour and butter and various other things and making a cake?

What starts out sounding like a crazy pandering to an irrational interest may turn into helping a 6 year old become a master chef.

In line with my aversion to "obsessions", I think it important to help a child extract every ounce of enjoyment out of an experience or interest, while suggesting further constructive directions to take that experience in.

It really isn't a biggie for me, the egg smashing. It gets boring after a while, unless varied: some of my happiest childhood memories involve throwing rotten eggs which we found in hidden hen's nests as far as we could into the undergrowth and hearing them explode in a cloud of sulphur :)

See, every what if is someone else's btdt, and that is what is boring about what ifs. It's not a way of avoiding discussing difficult problems, it's just yada yada. I can't be bothered to discuss the milk, but I easily could if I didn't have more interesting things to do.

emma said...

"Remember your kids have to live in society, make life easier for them. "

Very good point, anonymous. Yes, helping one's child understand what is done and not done, what gets you thrown out of shops and what gets you expelled from the swimming club and all the other social hurdles is a very important part of being a parent.

But we don't have to behave like conventional people in the privacy our own homes just in case child doesn't immediately understand that such activities are context dependent.

Anonymous said...

Two problems you are still ignoring:

Toddlers adquire tastes. Don't be surprised if your toddler cares more by appliances than any other more typical activity in the future.

Toddlers can't tell the difference bettween home and what is not home. As with anything they learned and will learn, it will take time until they do.

In the meanwhile, it don't think it's good to keep them at home to avoid coercive situations elsewhere.

stacy said...

I don't know about anyone else's children, but my kids understand that there are different rules at different homes, different places, and that we respect those rules when we are not in our own home. It's not a problem at all, never has been, because my children understand about respecting people, something many children, and many adults even, don't quite get.

My kids aren't going to be the freaks and outcasts just because I allow them to have their autonomy. If they are going to be freaks and outcasts it's because that's what they want to be. I was a "freak" who never fit in at school myself. Nothing made me more miserable when I was growing up than believing there was something wrong with me because I was not like everyone else. And that is because everyone in my life was trying to teach me to fit in and conform. I never truly knew happiness until I stopped trying to fit in.

And just maybe, those children being labelled with "mental illness" (I'd suspect you are speaking of autism, which is not an illness nor is it a disease) are simply those children who are, for whatever reason, unable to fit in. It's only a problem if they want to fit in and be like everyone else, or if they think they should because everyone else thinks they should conform. If allowed to be themselves, they will become the Picassos and Einsteins of the next generation.

BurningBright said...

If allowed to be themselves, they will become the Picassos and Einsteins of the next generation.

Now THAT is an interesting statement. But I can't say I agree with the generalisation whether it relates to autistic children or children who don't fit in or children in general.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know about anyone else's children, but my kids understand that there are different rules at different homes, different places, and that we respect those rules when we are not in our own home."

Sure, but it took them time to learn that. Certainly they did not know when they were 1 and by that age they need to be relating with people.

"My kids aren't going to be the freaks and outcasts just because I allow them to have their autonomy."

I never said that. What about criticism to what I have said? :P

"If allowed to be themselves, they will become the Picassos and Einsteins of the next generation."

Let's hope so, but I think this is just a deluded agenda.

Einstein was traditionally schooled and his mother made him take violin lessons. His father forced him to a course he didn't like.

Picasso was the son of a painter and professor. He had formal academic training from his father. He had formal education at school, which he left. He studied in Madrid and Paris.

Mozart had parent musicians who made him perform in front of people.

I could go on... :)