Risky Business: Letting Your Kids Really Play

By August 8, 2019Uncategorized

Full disclosure: I write this as my nearly three year old daughter is upstairs, on the couch, watching Frozen for the millionth time because she can’t go outside and play. She’s got a broken leg (and a sweet purple, sparkly cast).

So she’s been getting some extra screen time lately. 

This is the first time my wife and I have dealt with a child with a broken bone and it comes with some interesting revelations. 

What we learned…

1.The pain is the strongest in the first few days which means you are going to revert back to having a newborn. She won’t sleep through the night, tantrums will be ramped up, and you’ll have to be ready to go back to carrying her everywhere. 

2. They make absurdly small wheelchairs that you can rent. While they are quite useful, they are even more hilarious. Watching a toddler try and navigate one is like watching a small, drunk grandmother learning to use her first smartphone. 

3. Like most parental guilt, the shame you might feel is self-inflicted. Other parents aren’t really whispering to each other that you’re an awful parent that can’t keep an eye on their kids. (And even if they are, who cares?) 

It’s that last revelation I wanted to blog about. 

The internet can be a diabolical thing. The same medium that allows your daughter to stay in contact with distant friends and family, teaches Dad with how to videos for fixing bikes, and has an endless supply of downloadable coloring sheets, is also the place where many people hold their own lives up for inspection against those they (somewhat) know. It also lets parents read the most life-threatening things that have almost killed everyone else’s child so they too can panic and put their own children in an even smaller bubble.

I don’t (or at least try not to) parent that way. 

Take a breath. I don’t just show them the door and say good luck. I’m a responsible parent and would never allow my daughters to enter into a truly dangerous situation. It’s my job to keep them safe. 

But I don’t helicopter over them or snowplow the path for them.

Research has proven that risk is an essential component of a balanced childhood. Exposure to healthy risk, particularly physical, enables children to experience fear, and learn the strengths and limitations of their own body. Humans are designed to experience a degree of fear, manage it… or they will seek it elsewhere, on the internet or with self-destructive behavior. (Full article here)

Age appropriate outdoors time is key. You can leave primary aged children out of your sight in a safe environment like a garden or backyard. This may lead to a few more cuts and scrapes (or a fractured tibia) and fights with siblings, but it teaches kids how to make risk related decisions for themselves.

Got a firepit? Teach them how to be safe around it while teaching them how to build and light a fire. Near water? Let them explore and climb in streams. Tree or rock climbing? Yes and yes. My job? Manage the risk, make sure it isn’t a truly dangerous situation, and then step back and allow them to make their own decisions. It varies from child to child. 

Scrapes, grazes, falls, and panic are normal and our kids need to have their risk-perception muscles developed and flexed. It’s an important part of growing up, figuring out how the world works and how their body works. It builds self confidence, resilience, independence, and can actually reduce the risk of injury in future play. 

Instead of telling your daughter not to run so fast or climb so high, take a second (actually the experts recommend 15 seconds) to step back and provide them the opportunity to figure out what they can and can’t do. See how she is reacting to the situation so you can actually get a better sense of what she’s capable of when you’re not getting in the way.

Will I let Daphne back on the trampoline after her leg heals? If she wants to, absolutely. In the meantime, I’ve got some hilarious video to shoot of her trying to steer that tiny wheelchair so we can laugh about it years from now. 


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