When my boys were learning to roll over, I never stopped them from bumping their heads on the floor. We had carpet, vinyl and tiles, and they had access to all of those surfaces and often rolled from one to another. By the end of the first week there had been a few bangs and tears, but nothing that couldn’t be sorted with a cuddle and rock in my arms – and they had all learned to lift their heads up as they rolled.
I didn’t really think about this approach much but assigned it to other events as they grew. I did things like: holding my hand over the corner of a table when they toddled by; casually pointing out the floor was wet after I had mopped it; physically turning them around as they crawled down our concrete steps, so they could get down backwards; making sure they had one bed they could bounce on; and showing them how to get out of the trees they had climbed. As a result by the age of four they could all do things like; cut food and sticks using sharp knives, get themselves out of tight spots, and use a battery-drill and an iron without hurting themselves. By then they knew the difference between tools and toys.
I never pushed them or even encouraged them to do these things; I just (mostly) allowed them to as they were inclined to, taught them a few tricks, and turned up with plasters and cuddles when things didn’t go according to plan.
I have come to accept that children are driven to seek a certain amount of danger and I have found the more I have allowed my boys to set the pace of their ‘dangerous’ behaviours the more self-assured and capable they have become, and more aware of the risks NOT to take.
They occasionally have bitten off more than they could chew (when four years old, our eldest decided to ride around our block alone on his bike, he didn’t want to do that again for another two years) but most often than not they have taken small steps, fast. I often see children who have not been allowed to take the same small steps and they seem, to me, to be either too timid to take any chances or they over estimate their abilities to truly dangerous levels.
There seem to be two strong opposing forces in New Zealand parenting at the moment. One in which ‘safety first’ is the catch phrase, and the other which emphasises the importance of children being allowed to take measured risks. It seems I’ve ended up on one side of this debate without even trying, but now am really pleased that I have taken the approach I have taken.
What’s the approach to danger in your house? Do you think children need to be kept safe or that they need to learn to manage danger?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in New Zealand, Karyn Van Der Zwet
The photograph used in this post is credited to the author.
I think I’ve given my kids more of a supervised try when they’ve asked to use something that is not really meant for children. My two year old knows how to cut, but she uses safety scissors and has learned how to hold them when walking, etc. And, she knows they are sharp in the middle. If she was in a situation where she happened to pick up a pair of our scissors, I believe she will now know how to handle them.
My older girl was insisting to butter her own bread from an early age, so I watched her gave her some hints, and she has been eagerly requesting to do it eversince. Both girls peel their own carrots at 2 and 6 and know how to peel away from themselves.
I think being in tune with your child is the key. I noticed my younger child was a really good climber. She was really good on the stairs. I spent many, many times, up and down, letting her climb with my right by her and offering tips. After a long time of this, she was doing it herself, and I wasn’t hovering over her. I noticed other adults freaking out when they saw her go by the stairs, but I had to convince them that she was experienced and knew what she was doing.
The iron is definitely out of my comfort zone, Karyn! lol But, in baby steps, I tend to be a little ok with some risk taking in the hopes of teaching my children how to deal properly with the situations they are most curious about. The fact that I rarely iron is probably why it’s not top on their list!!
Being in tune with our children seems to be such a key factor in parenting, doesn’t it? Good point, Jen.
I love that your girls use peelers and that you let your little one climb as she was inclined to; it seems a shame, to me, that other parents need convincing of her competence.
Ironing has never been high on my priority list either but the boys have all be really interested – long may *that* last!!
Good I don’t iron! One less challenge to skip 😉
I am the same way, Karyn.
Once I caught myself pushing away my older one from any activities that were too dangerous or messy. Then I realized that I don’t want let her to do that not because I am afraid she will hurt herself or get dirty but becasue I didn’t want to spent the extra time to slow down and do stuff in her pace or because I didn’t want to clean after her. It appeared I am doing exactly the same thing as my mother used to do with me – Never too patient to let me do things with her. Luckily I had an older sister who’s different!
Nowadays I let my kids do almost everything with me. My older one got burned once and since she knows to stay away from “hot”. Lesson learned.
Oh yes, Ewa, we’ve had burns too and they are a very fast way to learn!
I have certainly learned that mess and time are part of what children really need to learn and grow competent. It’s been like rediscovering my childhood too!!
I’m mostly the same way with my kids. I’d rather let them take risks and discover their boundaries while I’m there to make sure they don’t accidentally lop off an arm. Once (after repeated warnings), I allowed my then-five-year-old to touch the hot stove. He screamed bloody murder and got a nasty blister on his finger, but he learned not to touch hot stoves. He also learned that when Mom keeps warning him not to do something, there might be a good reason. That being said, this approach of parenting has to be used with extreme caution on my older son who, like many other kids with autism, does not have a natural sense of danger. I do still follow the approach with him to a certain extent, though.
My boys have learned to be more aware of my warnings too, Kirsten – by, at first, not listening! For me, the key was saying something was ‘hot’ (etc) rather than ‘you’ll hurt yourself.’
I have heard that many autistic children do not have a natural sense of danger and can well imagine you would need to be cautious with using this approach too freely. I think it’s brilliant that you do (somewhat) use it though!
Great post! We are SO on the same page. From an early age my kids, too, operated a battery drill and iron, used sharp knives, and climbed trees. The common practice of smoothing out every bump for kids doesn’t help them develop competence nor does it foster essential character traits. It tends to be overlooked, but when small children beg to be included in household responsibilities they’re not only trying to imitate role models but trying to push themselves into ever greater mastery. Including kids of all ages in chores is my policy. Here’s why letting them take part is so important:
I am not surprised that we have used a similar approach with danger, Laura!
I really like what you say about children doing chores being more than just mimicry. Children are built to learn to be competent, they are driven to master what they see their important people doing, so this idea makes perfect sense to me.
Great post! I also try to have them take measured risks. I have two very different children: one girl is a thrill-seeker, who wants to do more than she is able to handle- I suppose my boy will be the same. This is especially hard for me, because I am a rather cautious person myself. My other girl is more cautious, and has to be encourage to try new things, but once she learns them, she does really well- it’s like she’s waiting until she can really do something… and with her one has to be very careful becasue she has very flexible, limb muscles and can fall easily, or choke on her food.
Olga, I find it fascinating that your daughter likes to really be sure that she can master something before she begins it. And, I can well imagine the risk taking of your other children could be a little nerve wracking with being more naturally cautious yourself!
Yes, it’s like you never see her trying to do things. You would rather see her doing things… or waiting- sometimes a loooong time- to do things. UNtil she knows she can do them. My other children, oh yes, it is nerve-wracking, but otherwise good for me becasue it makes me get out of my comfort zone.
I have an anxiety disorder, but I’ve been through cognitive behaviour therapy which trained me to act as if I DON’T, so I can fake being calm and laid back. Plus, I know that anxiety is a learned behaviour and I don’t want to manifest it in front of Owl, who is naturally very confident.
That means that I think some of my friends think of me as dangerously relaxed as a parent. You could tell, when I was baby-led weaning Owl, that they were sure I was embarking on a dangerous and bizarre way of feeding my child, even though I told them that kids who learn to eat this way are LESS likely to choke, plus they end up with better eating habits, plus it’s easier. When they had babies of their own, they still spoon fed.
When Owl is roaring around and bumping his head, I can see eyebrows raise as I casually saunter over and tell him that he’s fine. I watch them jump and squeal over their kids as they try to explore new things, and shake my head.
Kids get bumped. They run on sidewalks and they fall down. They cry. They get kisses and bandaids. And they learn. I’m okay with that.
The funny thing is, I find that these same parents seem laxer on safety stuff that I DO consider important. They don’t have consistent rules about how to deal with the road, for example. Meanwhile Owl NEVER runs into the road because I trained him to stop at curbs at the age of 18 months. Because THAT’S important.
Carol, I too had to fake being relaxed sometimes when the boys were toddlers and I still do a little with Ed who is only just four. I can certainly see the benefits the boys have gained in competence and self-confidence because they know they can manage when things don’t go to plan, as well as their confidence in their broader skill base.
The memory that remains with me is when I met with friends and, of the three crawling babies, one would only crawl a few metres away from her mother at a time while the other two (including Joe) explored the entire house. The child who didn’t crawl much had spent her life in a playpen and was overwhelmed by the open space and freedom. The other two had had their entire houses to crawl around and were already used to leading their own adventures. If I remember rightly, they were six months old and the difference in competence and confidence was already obvious.
I have five children and they go from the oldest being not a very danger seeking type to the youngest who lives for danger. (When we finalized her adoption last year, we kept the name given to her by her birthparents, including the middle name Lee. We kicked ourselves for not giving her a second middle name of Dangerous so she could be A. Dangerous Lee)
In the house, I try to keep potentially dangerous things out of reach but Dangerous Lee finds new and exciting ways to add greys to my head.
Outside when the youngest three are planning exciting (read: dangerous) new games my approach is to look away at the scary parts and just wait to see if there is any crying at the end. 9 times out of 10 there’s not. They bounce, these little ones.
They do bounce rather well don’t they?
And, yes, I learned a long time ago not to watch my boys doing ‘scary’ things (in fact, they have been far more likely to hurt themselves if I am watching) – instead, I just keep the hugs warm!
I live in a world where kids are all but swaddled in cotton wool. Every thing is scary. God forbid we let them out in 40 degree weather with wet hair. So in that context I am very bold and let my children do things your children were probably doing at 2! lol.
I love the post and I feel like more and more in my part of the world mothers are terrified of everything and are handicapping their children by keeping them from being prepared to live life!
Loved the post!
Hi Mama B!
Yes, I have a feeling that how confident mothers feel has a lot to do with how much they allow their kids to do. There are more and more parents trying to wrap their kids in cotton wool here too – which is sad, I think.
I love this post! It made me think of another blog I once read, about ‘Helicopter mums’. It was the first time I heard about helicoptering, but I recognized it immediately.
I think I’m somewhere in between. On the inside, I’m ALWAYS worrying. And I really force myself not to say ‘be carefull’ a hundred times a day. Because I was quite overly protective of my boy when he was a baby, it took a very long time before he wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle. Then it got to me, and I drastically changed (well, on the outside anyway). Now, at 7 years old, he is the first to climb all the way up a climbing rack. And next week he is starting ‘Tumbling’ lessons. He just loves being an acrobate and summersaulting, so instead of yelling ‘be carefull’ all day long, we decided to teach him how to do all that in a safe and controlled manner. I’m sure he will love it!
With my daughter, it’s more difficult. She just doesn’t know the word ‘danger’ (Gina, she woud go well with your Dangerous Lee, and she is also adopted, maybe there is a connection 😉 ?). But, she recently lost part of her eyesight, and now we are trying to teach her to be a bit more careful, untill she is more familiar with her new boundaries, dead angles, etc. Up till now without success. She bumps to tables, trips and falls all the time. Our bandages our running out. I guess I will have to let go. Again. She will learn about her new boundaries the hard way…
Yeah, two of ours have to learn by doing too, Katinka. The middle son is more cautious and will watch first, work out consequences and then attempt things.
My sister purposely takes her daughters to gymnastics so that they can learn how to fall without hurting themselves. Like you with the tumbling, here’s a lot of merit in that approach, I think.
Great post, Karyn! I try to strike a balance….allow my kids to learn and make mistakes while also being more cautious in higher stakes situations. I may let my little one use a knife to cut his sandwich at the table, but if I am the only adult with them in the pool, they wear life vests even though I am in close proximity to both. Both boys wear helmets and are allowed to ride their bikes fast and furious over ramps and jumps, but I won’t let my older son walk down the street alone to his friend’s yet. Hmm…..
I guess it just depends on the day…how well they seem to using common sense and how relaxed I feel. I will give this some more thought in the days to come for sure.
Staying relaxed seems to be key for sure, Tara!
And yes, we have times when safety gear is on, too. If it means the difference between the boys having a go at something or not, I’d rather they were properly kitted out so they CAN! 😀
I am with you, although my mom (who watches the kids while I am at work) isn’t, so it’s def interesting in our house. I let my 6 year old use a sharp knife (sharp enough where if he’s not careful, he could cut himself, but not sharp enough where he could chop off his finger) to help me cut up vegetables for dinner, whereas my mom still cuts up his food for him, and panicky when she sees him helping me. 🙂
It’s interesting that you’re so different from your Mum on this, Maman Aya.
I think my parents were waaaaay more safety-first with us than I am with the boys…but it will be interesting to see what the boys’ opinions are when they are older!