13 - 15 Months

Are they testing limits or just exploring?

Your 1-year-old likely did not unwind that roll of toilet paper or try to climb a bookshelf to provoke a reaction from you. At this stage, they are fascinated with exploring their environment. Like a scientist, they learn through trial and error. They don’t yet have an understanding of danger and aren’t fazed by messiness. In fact, many toddlers are drawn to “destructive play”—actions that topple, tear, break, or make a mess of something.

What is accidental limit-testing?

Accidental limit testing refers to behaviors that may bother you, but which your 1-year-old doesn’t yet know are a problem. Common examples include climbing, a fascination with outlets and stairs, opening “off-limits” cabinets and drawers, and unwinding rolls of toilet paper. 

How to prepare for this behavior

Create safe spaces for exploration. Because your toddler learns best when they have freedom to explore, safety is key. Designate some childproofed spaces in your home where they can touch, grab, open, close, and knock over whatever they want without constant correction.

Pick your battles. Everyone has a different tolerance for messiness and disorder. As much as possible, when your child isn’t engaging in anything dangerous, consider letting them keep going, even if it involves more cleanup later. The benefits of sensory and real-life exploration are vast, and your child will be less likely to become immune to the word “no.”

How to react when your 1-year-old tests limits

  • Try to stay calm. Unless your child is in immediate danger (or they’re going to cause damage to something or someone), try to maintain an even-keeled voice and demeanor. Get down to their level and redirect them to a new activity with short, precise language: “All done,” or “It’s closed,” work well.
  • Reserve “No!” and a loud voice for real danger. If you show a big reaction to something that isn’t dangerous, you run the risk of watering down the words “no” and “stop.” If your child reaches for something hot, opens a drawer of dangerous items, or is otherwise doing something that needs to stop immediately, give a firm “no!” and swiftly move them away from danger without dwelling on it.
  • Stay with them after a redirection. After you’ve moved them away, your child may protest. They will be much more likely to buy into a new, safer activity if you stay and play with them for a couple of minutes.
  • Remember that it takes time. The urge to keep going with something interesting is much stronger than the urge to stop, so each action will take repeated corrections to stick. Also, your child isn’t yet ready to transfer knowledge from one situation to another. For example, when they begin to learn not to unroll toilet paper in the bathroom, they won’t know that the same rule applies to paper towels in the kitchen.


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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, Parenting, Social Emotional, Parent Life, Behavior, Lovevery App, Child Development

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