Balancing safety concerns with a toddlers urge to run and climb can be a real challenge. With a little bit of planning, parents and whānau can give toddlers safe places to play.

Having a child this age can feel like having a blender without a lid because their energy levels seem to never run out — thank goodness for whānau!

High energy toddlers are not made for coffee shops, shopping trips, chats with friends, movies or long telephone calls. They are not too fussed about cell phones either, (unless they're in their hands) because sometimes they can become more interesting to their whānau than they are.

During this stage a child’s brain is prompting them to practise a range of physical skills. These include running, jumping and climbing to develop coordination and balance. An adult who tries to oppose this brain development is in for a fight. Toddlers do as their instinct directs rather than what their parents might prefer.

Run, jump and climb

Tamaiti will run, jump and climb whether the adults like it or not, so it’s good to go places where they can do this freely and with supervision. The great outdoors is perfect. Places like parks, beaches and sports fields provide plenty of opportunities for them to be physically active and practise their developing motor skills.

They will climb up the ladder of the slide again and again, happily chase seagulls or throw stones into the sea for an hour – all the time needing close supervision. Parents will usually get tired of activities before the toddler does.

The weather shouldn’t stop outside adventures too often. A little rain or wind can add to the experience. Rather than seeing a grey or windy day as unsuitable weather for outdoor play, it can be seen as a day for extra clothing. Gumboots, raincoats and hats allow tamaiti to splash and jump in puddles, which are favourite activities for most toddlers.

Safe environments

Creating environments where toddlers can safely climb, run and jump is great. Some children are our future dance, gym or sporting stars! And even if they aren’t heading for future stardom, it is still beneficial for them to have as much physical activity as they can. By providing opportunities and encouragement, parents and whānau are establishing a positive attitude to physical activity, and making it a part of everyday family life. This is a real investment in the future wellbeing of their whānau.

Dance, haka and poi are ways to combine physical activity with music and song, mingling two activities that appeal to toddlers. Toddlers enjoy rough and tumble play too, especially with others. Toddlers will enjoy play-fighting with their parents, if the adults can bear it.

Safekids Safety Tips 1- 2 Years | Safekids Aotearoa(external link)

Close supervision – assertiveness and skills

New Zealand has a high rate of accidents in under 5s, and this is generally due to lack of supervision. Every week in New Zealand at least 1 child (0–14 years) dies from an unintentional injury and around 150 children are hospitalised from an unintentional injury. Of those hospitalisations, 49% relate to falls. (Source: NZ Injury Query System, Injury Prevention Research Unit, University of Otago.)

Parents can have quite different perspectives on what is considered to be a safe and acceptable physical activity for their toddler, and this can result in varied supervision. Some may want to strictly control the child’s environment while others will encourage more exploration and have a more relaxed approach to supervision.

Safety has to be an important factor for how closely you supervise children, especially given New Zealand’s injury statistics. However, keeping an active toddler restrained is also a battle. Finding the balance between activity and safety is the key. For example:

  • A young child wants to climb a tree but Mum thinks it’s too dangerous. How might their toddler have a safe climbing experience that still provides them with a physical challenge?
  • A young child wants to climb a tree and Dad says ‘Give it a go’. How might he ensure the challenge is safely supported? ‘l’m right behind you, if you need some help. Where are you going to put your hand or foot next?’

Parents’ own temperaments in terms of activity can influence how much focus they put on physical activity. A low activity parent may prefer their toddler to hold hands and walk along the beach talking about what they can see or smell. In contrast a high activity parent is likely to run alongside her child. In this case the best experiences for their toddler will come from having time with both parents.

A bit of planning is needed for parents who are worried about taking an assertive toddler out and about. If you know your child will want to run everywhere, in possibly dangerous situations, you might consider a child ‘leash’. These come in a variety of styles, including wrist to wrist, harness and backpack versions, and are available at many baby stores.

Some people have very strong opinions about this type of safety tool, which may put parents off considering them. But if you focus on keeping your child safe and what’s okay for your whānau, you may feel better about using one. A leash is better than a child being hit by a car.

Checking driveways, and that gates are closed, are wise safety measures. Children at this age have no understanding of consequences, so their parents need to think for them.