A few weeks ago I went for a walk to the park with my daughter. She likes to climb to the top of the climbing frame and play pirates. The game involves roaming the edges of the park for interesting treasures and on this day, she discovered big rocks. She proceeded to pick them up and roll them down the bank, watching them crash at the bottom. The only other child at the park was a little younger than my daughter and after observing her for a while, she found her own rock. She used all of her efforts to lift the rock and proudly show it to her mum. At which point, she was greeted with a look of horror and her mum quickly took the rock away and ushered her to ‘more suitable’ pursuits.
This kind of reaction is very familiar. When my children were toddlers, other parents would often ask me if my children were okay when they climbed a ladder and slid down the longest slide, as I observed from a distance. I have never been a parent to shadow my child’s every move and rarely feel the need to step in.
It is always refreshing to find a parent who shares my attitude. On a recent trip to the park with a friend, I was so happy to find someone who not only didn’t bat an eyelid when my eldest started paddling barefooted in the cold wet mud but actively encouraged the others to join in. When the children threw rocks on the ground to see if they would break , she gave them advice on how to do it safely, rather than stopping them because it was too dangerous.
You are my kind of mum friend because you let all these experiences happen.
And when you let these things happen, with a little bit of support they will have the courage to jump.
I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends. It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so. When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.
This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges. Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools. This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark. I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks. She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water. They were called back hours later by a bell. This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child. We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill.
I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother. On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide. I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side. I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing. I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own. I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising. The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision. I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety rules.
Lenore Skenazy has a great blog that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children