Our two-year-old Rachel is very bright and very curious. She loves to open drawers and empty out the contents, examining everything(we keep latches on drawers with dangerous items, of course). In some ways, it's nice because she can play for quite a while by herself. However, she can make an awful mess, and now she has started going through my clothes and trying to play dress up (it is cute, but still annoying.) If I get angry with her, she looks so hurt and surprised that I feel guilty. How can we get her to behave without stifling her curiosity?
You can set reasonable limits on Rachel's explorations without stifling her curiosity. In fact, if you make it easier for Rachel to know what she is allowed to do and not allowed to do she'll be able to spend more of her time learning new things without wondering whether you might get upset.
From your description of the look on Rachel's face when you scold her, it sounds as though she doesn't know that she's done anything wrong until you tell her so. It may be that you allow her to rummage through your drawers some of the time, or that you don't mind if she plays quietly but get upset if she scatters things all around the room. It's very hard for a two-year-old to understand a rule that is not concrete and specific. Think for a minute-- do you think Rachel could the rules are about playing in drawers?
I'd suggest that you decide what drawers are O.K. for Rachel to empty and which drawers are not. For example, you might want to allow her to empty all the drawers in her own room, one or two drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, and one drawer in your room. Tell Rachel that these drawers are for her to open but that the others are to stay shut. You can put latches on them to help her remember the rule. If she forgets, tell her, "Remember Rachel, these drawers are for you. The other drawers are just for me."
You can take advantage of Rachel’s curiosity to make this new rule positive and exciting if you change the contents of the drawers. She’ll be eager to open them to see what’s inside, and you may find that the drawers that have surprises are much more interesting to her.If you have a kitchen drawer that changes its contents every day, you may find that she plays happily there while you are busy with meals or clean-up.
By setting limits for Rachel that are firm but reasonable, you'll find that it's easier to say no and mean it, and you won't feel so guilty. But don't expect her to follow your rules all the time--she's a two-year-old, after all!