My toddler colours in books that aren’t colouring books!

Imagine this scene for a moment…

You’re totally mom winning…you have all this great colouring and writing stuff set up for your child. Coloured pencils, crayons, an assortment of paper – the works! You are totally winning at helping your little one learn the pre-writing skills of gripping and manipulating a writing utensil.

You are awesome!

But then somehow along the way…that crayon makes it way into a book…not a colouring book but a book book.

You feel like you’ve just gone from mom WIN to mom FAIL, and might even feel triggered by seeing something getting destroyed. Ugh.

(This post might contain affiliate links, which means if you happen to buy a product I love then I may get a commission – at no extra cost to you! For all the Ts and Cs go here.)

So what do you do when your child colours in a book that isn’t a colouring book?

Well if you’re a GENTLE PARENT then you need a way to respond to this behaviour that doesn’t require a timeout, lecturing or a spanking.

So what do you do?

#1. Reality Check

Honestly, anytime I’m sharing advice about handling a certain behaviour with your child I always bring this up because I even remind myself of this on a regular basis.

When we are dealing with our child’s behaviour we always need to keep in mind what is appropriate behaviour for their age.

Not going to lie, I get triggered when my toddler throws food on the floor, but I have to remind myself that she’s a toddler and that’s just what she’s going to do until she learns not to, and that will take time.

So it’s the same with the colouring in books when they’re young. Here are a few things to remember:

  • They might not realize the difference between a colouring book and a regular book (yet)
  • They might think they’re making the book look nicer
  • They might be testing the boundaries with you

Take a deep breath, and remind yourself of these things before you react. Your child is probably NOT trying to make you angry or get a reaction out of you.

They probably did not have malicious intent when they picked up that book. Maybe curiosity, but it wasn’t malicious.

It’s hard for toddlers to distinguish between disposable and non-disposable items

In your young child’s eyes, they probably don’t see the book as being ruined, and in general I’ve started to notice how there are so many things in a child’s world that are disposable that it’s hard to know what’s disposable and what’s not.

For example, sometimes my daughter plays with the cardboard toilet paper roll – and she squishes it, and chews it, and rips it…and in the end we throw it out. And I’m not phased by it.

But what if she did that with a special birthday card? I’d have a totally different reaction.

So when she colours in a book that she’s not supposed to colour in, I remind myself that she’s not doing it on purpose, and I even take the blame a little bit. I’m the one that enabled her to do that, so what can I do differently next time?

Related: Toddler Tantrums (The Full Effective Guide)

#2. Gentle Redirection to Teach the Preferred Action

In the moment you are going to want to redirect your toddler back to colouring on the paper meant for them. If they get “caught” colouring in a book and you give in and just let them do it then that is telling them that that’s ok, and if that’s NOT ok for you then you definitely want to address it.

The important thing here is to address it with gentleness.

Your child might just need to be redirected to an activity that meets their needs for a sensory experience or that uses more of their energy. I have a long list of easy (but fun) kids activities here.

Avoid negative emotions to ensure that they remember what you’re trying to teach them

Here’s something not a lot of people realize – when children become emotional or stressed they’re less likely to remember the take away from the teachable moment.

If they’re suddenly flooded with all these negative emotions (guilt, shame, fear of punishment, etc.) then they’re brain will be too busy and chaotic with those thoughts and feelings that they might miss the point you’re trying to make – this book isn’t for colouring.

And then they will colour in that book again some other time!

So when you redirect them avoid saying things like:

  • “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that!”
  • “You are being so bad right now!”
  • “How could you colour in my book when you know that it’s special to me?”
  • “If you don’t put that book down right this instance I’m taking all your crayons away forever!”

Do you see how these reactions would create guilt, shame and fear in a child?

They might be default reactions, and a lot of moms deal with mom anger, so I get that.

Use a gentle redirection

So to redirect your child gently, you can say something like:

  • “Oops, that’s not your colouring book.”
  • “This book is just for reading, so I’m going to put it back in the bookshelf.”
  • “You really want to keep colouring, so why don’t you draw me another puppy on your colouring page?”
  • “Wow, I really like what you’ve been drawing on your colouring pages!”

#3. Teach

You can also spend some time teaching your toddler the difference between the colouring books/pages and regular books.

This might mean when colouring time starts you say things like, “Here is your colouring book, and remember, this is the only place where you can colour.”

You can talk about how colouring in regular books will ruin them, or how regular paper is better because they can be as creative as possible.

Try to set this boundary as well as you can and teach them where they are and aren’t allowed to colour, but try to do so in a calm and casual way. As mentioned before, if we insert negative feelings into the teachable moment it might ruin the effect.

Reflect together

If your toddler is a bit older, you can spend time later on reflecting on why it’s not ok to colour in other books. You can do this with your younger toddler too, they might not completely get what you’re saying, but it’s actually really great practice for you.

So you can reflect together about how when they were colouring in the other book you had to take it away from them and give them paper instead, and tell them that you did that because those books aren’t mean to be coloured in. Try to help them understand as much as possible, and remember this is another teachable moment and you don’t want to upset your child and make them feel guilty, but you’re helping them to learn so they can be more successful in the future.

It’s always good to remember that we are on the same team as our child. It’s not us vs. them, but it’s us supporting them as they learn how to go about this big, big adult made world.

#4. Prevent

Ok but is this still happening a lot? Maybe your toddler is just still too young to really “get it” and too many books are being ruined during their learning process?

Than you’re going to want to prevent them from colouring in books, and this is part of setting boundaries. So here are some things you can do to prevent your toddler from colouring in books not meant for colouring

  • Only give them access to colouring utensils when you can supervise. You can keep the crayons, pencils, paper, etc. in a shoebox and only bring it down when you know you have the time and patience to sit down and supervise them while they colour. Keeping everything in a physical box might also help to teach them that THESE things are for colouring.
  • Keep non-colouring books out of reach. This is a big part of setting boundaries – just don’t give them access to things you don’t want them to touch.
  • Try something like Color Wonder. Maybe I’m late to the game, but these markers and corresponding paper are pretty incredible! It’s these markers that only work with this certain paper, so if you use the marker on any other paper, fabric, walls, etc. it will NOT work. Amazing right! You can check them out here. I actually just ordered some for my little artist.

One day they’ll be like you, and know not to colour in regular books

Don’t worry, it might take awhile for them to figure it out, and even some random boundary testing after you think they’ve figured it out, but eventually there will be a day that you don’t find random scribbles in any of the books around the house.

So that’s how you can turn your #momfail back into a #momwin.

Because being calm and teaching your child how to go about this big, big world is an amazing thing to do.

No more feeling overwhelmed and triggered, instead you can feel like a cool and confident cucumber as you patiently redirect and teach your child.

You can use these kinds of strategies in every area of discipline

Being a Gentle Parent isn’t always easy, and it actually takes practices, but it’s in the best interest of your child…and your own well being.

Once you learn how to control your own emotions to stay calm when you discipline your child it really changes the game. You no longer feel burdened by discipline, but instead you have the confidence that they strategies you’re using will work to truly teach your child to want to do that right thing.

Gentle Parenting has changed my life, and the lives of so many other families out there.

Do you want it to change your life too?

Check our my FREE starter email course that will teach you all the basics of Gentle Parenting in just a few days.

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