Monday, September 2, 2013

Attractive Nuisances

Under the law, an “attractive nuisance” is defined as “anything on your premises that might attract children into danger or harm.” Common examples of attractive nuisances include swimming pools, ponds, trampolines, and tree houses. But based on my personal experience, most homes are chock-full of attractive nuisances, inside and out.

My children, like most, apparently have radar which helps them find every attractive nuisance within reach (as well as many that are not). Whenever they enter an unfamiliar room, they instinctively make a beeline to the nearest electrical outlet, knife block, or breakable objet d’art in sight. In a familiar room, they know all the best trouble they can get into and they find it as soon as they can. If my kids are in the office and I leave the room for 30 seconds, when I come back my daughter is invariably playing with a letter-opener shaped like a sword and my husband’s checkbook. (The checkbook may not seem like a harmful object, but believe me, if she scribbles on or rips up the last check, her life will be in danger.) If they’re in the playroom and I leave to answer the phone, when I return I’m sure to find one or the other of them attempting to climb up the entertainment center containing hundreds of pounds of books and a large-screen television. In the kitchen, I don’t even need to leave the room, but just turn my back for a second, and two little hands are reaching for the burner knobs on the stove or stretching toward the delicate wine glasses on the sideboard.

Life itself, for a small child, is an attractive nuisance.

After all, to them, everything is attractive. Everything is new, and interesting, and curiosity-inspiring. Unlike me, they don’t know everything that’s in the junk drawer, nor what it is, nor what it’s for. So of course they want to dig and explore and examine. They’re too short to see what’s at the back of the counter, or on top of the fridge, or on a high shelf in the bathroom closet. So they try to climb up there and take a peek using whatever method they can find, be it stacking up toys or boxes, or scaling lower shelves, or swinging like a monkey from a nearby piece of furniture.

And unfortunately, to them, many things are also dangerous. A stove, when you know how to use it and you use it properly, is not dangerous. Nor is a sharp knife, nor a pair of scissors, nor an electrical outlet. These are all extremely useful, practical, even necessary items for modern life. But in the hands of a small, ignorant, curious child, all these things change from necessities to nuisances. 

Katie discovering the principles of elasticity via an attractive nuisance commonly called a bungee cord.

Ryan can even make paint an attractive nuisance, especially since it’s kept on top of the refrigerator.

Hopefully, they will outgrow their ignorance before they outgrow their curiosity, and hopefully before long the attractive nuisances will become attractive learning experiences. But until then, I guess I’ll just have to learn how to manage a couple of attractive nuisances of my own.

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