Much of the frustration of rearing children results when we try to protect them from things that are not lethal, or even dangerous. Think of how hard we work to make sure they are dressed for winter when they go outside. Sometimes they fight us. Sometimes they want to run outside not wearing a jacket. Do we really need to argue with them? What will they inevitably learn if we let them go outside into the cold without a jacket? Nature will teach them the meaning of the word "cold," and it will teach them why they need to wear that jacket. Nature will teach them and not get an argument.
Children want to try things on their own. It is critical to their personal development that they be able to try things even if we know they should be careful. But if we intervene to stop them from taking a risk, we should make sure the risk is a fairly serious one, not simply an unpleasant moment.
Suppose a toddler regularly runs under a table - which you have warned her or him not to do - because you know the day is coming they will be tall enough to hit their head. Eventually, that table is going to teach the child something your words never could: that pain can follow from not listening to your warnings.
By allowing our children to take lesser risks and to deal with those consequences, we allow them to figure out that risks are sometimes worth taking, and sometimes not. If we try to make all those decisions for them ahead of time, we program them to fear too much, and cope too little. Life has many lessons to teach us, and many of them involve suffering a degree of unexpected pain.
Our children must learn to see risks and must not be afraid to take most of them. It is how they learn to walk, to run, to ride a bike, to climb, to jump, to trust. A friend will surely betray them. A love will surely leave them. A peer will surely make fun of them. These are things that risks in life help to produce. The alternative is a child learning fear of engaging the world, with phobias which can debilitate.
We cannot allow little ones to run from the car into a store parking lot. The danger of significant harm is too great. But what about merely running too fast on a gravel surface without traffic? What if the worst that could happen is they fall and get scuffed up a little? Are we wiser to let them learn the lesson of running on gravel by experiencing it?
Running around a pool is entirely different. That is a danger of significance. Slipping could result in an immediate concussion. And most pools have a rule against it, and kids must learn and obey that rule.
Making a child afraid of the world is not preparing that child to engage the world. The key is making sure the risks they are allowed to take are not ones which can result in serious injury. A childhood needs some bumps and bruises from normal risk taking.
© 2014, Jim “Pappy” Moore, All Rights Reserved.