And scissors. And rope, nails and hammers.
When did we become so preoccupied with safety that we forgot to let our children live in the real world?
Or is it simply the perception of safety that we fixate on? Making sure that our kids don’t have bruises from wrestling matches with their brothers or scrapes from learning to ride a bike without knee pads? Do we feel such judgment from the outside world that we pass on that judgment to our children, doubting their every move?
I have a confession to make. My kids have had accidents and felt some pain.
Only a handful of people know this story: When my daughter was just under a year old, we were sitting at my mom’s beach rental relaxing after a long day out in the sun. My husband and I were both distracted, and our daughter crawled over to the stairs that led down to the basement and fell over the edge, tumbling to the bottom in a split second.
As soon as we saw her near the stairs we both jumped up, but it was too late. Instead of saving her, we had the agonizing experience of watching her tumble head first down the stairs, landing at the bottom with a thud and flood of tears.
I felt like the worst parent ever. Although she was uninjured, I felt like this was a scarlet letter that all other moms would see at preschool, the park, the church.
But just as time heals all wounds, time and two more babies have me helped me erase that mark that was left on my hard earned “good mom” badge.
A major turning point for me was when my youngest was just over a year old. He was the stereotypical wobbly toddler, and he was showing off his skills at my mom’s house. (Apparently the only people I hang out with are my mom and kids.) After taking a few unsure steps, he lunged forward to increase his speed, falling head first toward the wall. My baby’s head came down right on one of this sharp corners of my mom’s beautiful wide baseboards. I ran to him and found that his forehead was already covered in blood as a cut across it bleed freely.
I cried more than he did.
The next morning as I prepared to take him to church with a large bandage plastered across his head only hidden a bit by his blonde bangs I cried once again. What would people think? Would they think I was a bad mom? Or would they think that as a beginning walker he simply had a fall?
We did receive a few “poor baby” comments that morning at church. However, I realized that they we not directed at me or my parenting abilities. As children learn new skills, there will be set backs, and there may be an occasional injury. It’s nature’s way of making sure we don’t get in over our heads.
It is our job as parents to help our children reach goals and skills through gentle guidance, careful teaching, and confidence-building activites. For example, I’ve said that I let my kids play with knives.
The boys, 3 and 5, use butter knives to cut playdough, which helps them learn how to handle a knife, but keeps them safe from any major injuries. However, my five-year olf managed to cut himself with a plastic knife one day while helping me chop tomatoes. He learned just how sharp knives could be and earned himself a superhero bandaid.
My sister wasn’t allowed to use knives until she was in late childhood/early teens. She had a vision problem that made my parents worry about her depth perception and ability to see what she was doing. These days she’s a fully functioning adult with three kids of her own, doing perfectly fine slicing the Easter ham every year.
But what did she lose out on? Independence, confidence, self efficacy?
Suddenly they are supposed to have resiliency that childhood never taught them.
What are our children missing out on in a world where playgrounds have rubber mats to land on instead of concrete to skin their knees. What are about foam “wood” that they can knock plastic nails into with a pretend hammer?
They are missing out on experiencing challenges, mistakes and hard-earned success. As our
children leave the cozy nest that we build around them, insulating them from failure, they experience a major jolt. Suddenly they are supposed to have resiliency that childhood never taught them.
We must not live in such fear that we another our children’s independence or create an image of the world that is only full of danger, not an adventure.
So, next time your child gets a scrape of a bruise let go of the guilt or shame that you feel when you see another parent eyeing it. It might just be me. I’ll smile, knowing you have an adventurous kid.