Q&A: toddler destroying books

Kate writes:

"My 21-month-old loves books. To death. At this point, we’ve only delved into board books because she is so rough on them. On the one hand, I am thrilled that she asks to be read to, and even more excited that she will take books and sit down to peruse them herself.

On the other hand, it bothers me that she is ruining–bending them in half, snapping the spines, pages coming apart–her books at the rate of about one every five days. Goodnight Moon, which is part of her nightly routine, is hidden from her during the day to keep it safe. I am the type of person who refused to even use a highlighter in my college textbooks, but that aside, I think it’s getting excessive. We’re expecting a new baby within weeks, so I would love for this board book library to be as intact as possible for #2.

Is she too young to learn respect for her own property and/or that of others? How do you teach that? Sometimes I feel like I spend the entire day saying no, and books/reading is an area where I want to tread very carefully, especially because I will be spending a lot of time in the very near future attending to her sibling as well. I’d appreciate any words of wisdom!"

How annoying. It must just make you want to throttle her, there in the last trimester of unwieldiness and sleep disruption. Or at least give her a lecture on how the printing press changed the world and she needs to respect that.

Her book-destroying is probably accelerating because of the impending arrival of the baby. Your daughter is picking up on the excitement and is scared by it, so she’s acting out more now. Not that that helps with the actual behavior, but at least you can be pretty sure that your daughter isn’t going to grow up to hate books or be one of those people who underlines words and writes in the margin of library books (shudder).

I think 21 months is probably the very earliest border of being able to understand respecting other people’s property, but you’re not going to have much luck with working on that with your daughter right now because of the baby coming so soon. If I were you, I’d focus on damage control instead of behavior modification. Keep out a couple of books that are mostly destroyed already, and put the others in a safe place. Start steering her more toward stuffed animals and dolls, and then when the baby comes you can do some parallel play with her as you take care of the new baby. In a few weeks after the baby comes she may have calmed down enough (because the baby won’t turn out to be as scary as she imagines) to be able to read a lot again. I hope so, because reading to an older child is a great way to get the time to sit down and nurse the younger one.

But yeah, don’t even try to get into it with her–it’s a losing battle at her age and this stage of your pregnancy. Just protect the books, and try to hang in there for a few more weeks.

And here’s a not-so-secret: As sucky as the first few months of new baby + toddler can be, it’s way easier than dog-tired-and-pregnant + toddler.