“What about situations where natural consequences are unacceptable”?
I teach about the object before the child approaches the object.
Knives, for example.
Here’s a picture of me peeling potatoes with two toddlers and a four year old. I don’t do this on the counter while my kids stay away. I keep them close. They’re engaged. I have them hold the potatoes, have them take the peel away from the potato after it’s been almost cut all the way through. When they move too fast they are reminded that we are careful around knives. I talk about how I’m holding the knife, how the sharp edge cuts the potato. How the potato is harder than their skin is but the knife can cut right through it, how the knife can cut skin too so we have to be REALLY careful. I show how the knife moves under the skin of the potato and under my thumb not into my thumb.
They watch. They dance around a few feet away but when they approach me they slowwwwww down. And I always remind them to slow down even more.
Even the little boy in the lower right who is a friend’s child.
While I’m peeling the potatoes I’m careful to keep the point of the blade pointing into the pot if there is a child in line with it. I make sure they move away from the point of the blade otherwise I can’t continue peeling. I’m ready to turn my arm so that they would run into my elbow rather than the knife, if they are moving too fast. (Which has never happened. I’m just always prepared to do that when I see them moving towards me.)
I talk to them about how when I carry the knife back inside I make sure that the point is pointing down inside the metal pot because if I fall I don’t want to land on the knife. And how when they’re bigger they can help me peel potatoes too.
They see my caution. When they are invited to touch the knife they touch the flat part, not the tip or the cutting edge. And they wait for me to touch it first.
It’s not a “thing mommy plays with”. It’s a thing that mommy uses VERY carefully. It’s not something that they’re kept away from or punished if they touch. It’s something that mommy is VERY cautious with.
If we use punishment then a child is punished for taking a cookie from a cookie jar. They’re punished if they reach for a knife. They can’t differentiate between “cookie” and “knife” in terms of what their experience with it will be. They don’t learn from punishment that the knife is dangerous. They learn that mommy will get angry if she sees them with the knife. Just like mommy will get angry if they take a cookie.
This way they don’t want to touch it because they understand that IT is dangerous. Not me seeing them try to touch it. But them touching it. They are cautious with the object itself.
Q: When do I start teaching this way?
A: When my child is able to push chairs around and climb onto them. This is when knives start to concern me. By this point my child has already learned to be gentle with things like caterpillars and worms, has the fine motor control to touch without grabbing, and is able to approach things with caution. So… Closer to two years than to twelve months.