Has anyone read the book or seen the movie The Other Boleyn Girl? Okay, this post actually has nothing to do with that. But I was recently reading a book by the same author, and I came across a paragraph that really resonated with me concerning parenting. Here is what it said:
“We are all precious,” Anthony declares. “And we all have to live a life with risk. I am teaching him to ride any horse in the stable and to face a fight without a tremble. That will keep him safer than trying to keep him on safe horses and away from the jousting arena.” (pg. 229, The White Queen)
This is what I see in a lot of parents today. The fear that their children might get hurt keeps them from allowing their children to learn the very skills that will keep them safe. How will they learn how to land if we never let them jump?
Here are some myths we believe about child safety.
We should only allow children to try what they are developmentally capable of
I come across this same mindset when I use big words with children and people chastise me because “the children don’t understand what you’re saying”. True, at first. But as their vocabulary expands they begin to understand more and more. Their vocabulary won’t expand if we don’t use words they don’t understand. That’s how anyone builds vocabulary.
In the same way, children learn new skills through trial and error. Many times, they won’t succeed the first time they get on a bike or try the monkey bars. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to attempt. The more they try, the more they learn about how to succeed.
It’s okay for you to be there along the way, encouraging them and correcting them. You can be there to hug them and wipe their tears when they fall down (and they will fall down). But you should not let the fear of their failure keep you from letting them try. This teaches them that they should only tackle “safe things”, instead of working towards goals that will challenge them and help them grow.
Children should use playground equipment correctly
Now, it could be argued that there is a time for this. When at school or daycare, and there are a lot of children all using the playground at the same time, sometimes it’s easier to streamline the process and give children rules about how equipment should be used so we don’t end up with a slide traffic jam.
Have you ever noticed that your children want to use the playground in any way except how it’s designed to be used? They can be little daredevils.
Before you start another chorus of “Don’t do that!” “Get down from there!”, consider the ways your child is benefiting from their own imaginative use of playground equipment.
They are learning creativity.
Children love to come up with their own uses for ordinary objects. This is developing character traits such as creativity and innovation, which will be beneficial for the rest of their lives. As adults, we often get “locked in” to the use of specific objects. This is called functional fixedness. Functional fixedness impairs a person’s ability to problem solve. By allowing children to flex their creative muscles, you can actually improve their ability to problem solve.
They are developing gross motor skills.
We take for granted skills like jumping, climbing, and balancing. These are skills that every child has to learn from scratch. They are born with NONE of it. Every time they jump off the top landing of the playground into the wood chips, they are learning how to land correctly so that they don’t hurt themselves in the future. Every time they climb up the outside of the slide they are building strength and endurance. Every time they walk across the top of the monkey bars they are teaching themselves balance and coordination.
Who wouldn’t want to have a strong, athletic, coordinated child?
They are building confidence.
Your children are going to fall down and get hurt some times. They are going to struggle, and get discouraged, and give up. Your job as a parent as to be their encourager. Because they are learning what their limits and abilities are, and you are telling them to keep trying even when they think they can’t do it. They won’t be able to do everything. That’s a fact. But every time they accomplish something that was difficult, it’s a huge boost for their self-esteem. They learn what their strengths and weaknesses are; what they are good at and what they need to improve.
If they are only allowed to do safe activities, they are not able to face challenges and conquer them.
Clean is healthy
We’ve certainly come a long way in the last 100 years. We’ve learned a lot about health, hygiene, and medicine. We’ve also drastically decreased our infant mortality rate. These are great things!
But when we take this too far, we end up on the opposite side of the spectrum. Children are being kept so clean that their immune system does not have a chance to develop antibodies.
So let your children play outside and get dirty, pet animals, and roll around on the floor. All of this is helping them develop their immune system so that they can lead a healthier overall life.
Along the same lines, please check out my article about the benefits of letting children go barefoot.
Learning “dangerous” skills is bad
There is a children’s camp in the UK called 50 Dangerous Things that is based Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School. The idea is that children learn from a young age how to do “dangerous” activities under supervision. These may include using knives, lighting fires, boating, woodworking, etc.
Because they are made aware of the dangers, the proper technique, and the appropriate setting, these children are capable of putting their skills to good use while maintaining their own safety. To summarize the quote I began this article with: children are safer when they are taught how to use things correctly rather than kept away from anything that can hurt them.
Would you rather try and keep all dangerous objects away from your child as long as possible, or empower them so that they know the correct method and time to use the dangerous objects?
Children should not be allowed to play unsupervised
In fact, unsupervised play is key to child development. If children always have an adult nearby, they are less likely to solve their own problems because they know you’ll do if for them. This article talks about how children who play unsupervised develop better self-esteem and judgement than their well-supervised counterparts. Another study from the University College London found that children who are allowed to play unsupervised are more social and more active than children who are not allowed out without an adult.
Isn’t that freeing? You don’t have to watch the kids and try to make supper at the same time! Even young children benefit from self-directed play.
So there you have it: Five myths parents believe about child safety.
To summarize in conclusion, here are five truths we’ve explored instead:
Children should be allowed to strive for accomplishments that may seem over their heads.
Children benefit from being allowed to use their creativity, gross motor skills, and build confidence by playing daring on playground equipment.
Keeping children too clean can prevent their immune system from developing correctly.
Learning how to use dangerous skills appropriately can keep children safer than avoiding all danger.
Unsupervised play is important for children’s autonomous development and can improve their physical and emotional health.
Do any of these myths resonate with you? Let me know in the comments!