A little story for you all: while my older son is in swimming lessons, my younger son and I hang out in the “dry land” area... there's some small slides, big blocks, one of those wooden things with the beads that you can move around on wires that are always in doctors offices. It's an awesome little area if you need to occupy a sibling. The kids always take turns, and if not, no one seems to have a problem stepping in to help out. A little “dry land village” if you will.
Now, without going into too much detail, I'll just summarize. It's easier on all of us that way. My son, who is 2, was climbing up and down one of the slides and he going down on his tummy, face first. From the top of the slide to the bottom was maybe 6 inches longer than his entire body. He wasn't doing anything super dangerous or inappropriate for his age. And no one is allowed to wear socks or shoes in the pool area so with bare feet, he had great grip! There was another child there, a girl, who was about 6 years old. She tried to do what my son was doing and her care giver immediately told her she was not allowed. My heart (and science-of-child-development brain) went out to her, and I tried to engage her and my son in another activity together, but she was having none of it. She was determined to climb up that slide, but she wasn't given the chance. There was a time out and a lot of crying for the rest of the swimming lesson. And in my head were all kinds of thoughts about the teenager this little girl was going to grow up to be... what kind of risks will she take when she's older? What experimenting will she do? Blah blah blah. And all of that is a topic for another post.
But what I'm here now to talk about is “appropriate risk”. It's something that I feel very strongly about, and there is research and evidence to back up my feelings. As parents, it's natural for us to be concerned or worried about the things our children are doing... and that will go on for eternity, or as long as we are alive, whichever is longer: As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be type stuff. But there are MAJOR physical and emotional developments that are supported by allowing children to take appropriate risks. They learn new skills, gain confidence, and develop resiliency when they *gulp* FAIL. It's ok, guys. Your kids are going to miss. They are going to fall, cry, bleed, and probably fall again. But they will also learn in the process. They will try try again, and low and behold, they will eventual master that task!
Studies of such risks and research into development play a role in child care settings and in school curriculums. Should it play into how we parent as well? YES it most certainly should! Giving children challenges allows them to develop problem solving skills and to assess danger. If they are given choices that challenge them, they are less likely to look for those challenges in more dangerous situations. Now, I'm not saying that we should be letting children of any age run free and let them climb anything and jump off of wherever. That's where the “appropriate” comes in. As the adults, it's ultimately up to us to make the first decision as to whether or not something is doable... can they succeed in this on their own, with my help, or is it something they aren't ready for yet? This is Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development for those of you interested in social learning theory :) Being anxious about it is totally normal! But when we transfer that anxiety to our children, that's when we have a problem. Again, another post for another day.
Parents! Life is fun! Kids are kids! Slides go down AND up! Keeping them safe doesn't mean keeping them from doing things... it simply means supervising and supporting them while they discover who they are and what they are capable of.
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