My daughter is going into Grade 1 next week. Last year, when she was in kindergarten, she got dismissed earlier than my older daughter which meant that every day we had time to kill in the playground. She would burn off energy — running, sliding, climbing, and jumping.
It quickly became clear to me that there weren’t many kids her age around the schoolyard who are permitted to be quite as adventurous as I allow her to be.
“Don’t climb on that railing — your pretty clothes will get messy.” “That is dangerous. Come down from there.”
Standing in line, along with the other parents to pick the kids up, I heard this all the time.
I have to admit, my heart still leaps in my throat every time my 5-year-old clambers up the school’s chain-link fence. If there are other parents around I feel the judgement in their eyes but even when there are no witnesses, I’m often my own worst critic. The voice inside my head says, “She’s only 5. Should she be climbing a fence five times taller than her?” I have to hold myself back from yelling like all the other moms.
But my daughter has always been this way, always moving, always pushing her physical limits and I had to make a choice; I could either say no every couple of minutes, or I could help my little one jump higher, longer, and learn to do it all as safely as possible. We talk about staying focused and holding strong, and the difference between jumping and falling. Of course, this doesn’t mean that she’s never at risk of getting hurt. But I also know that as long as she’s not in danger of serious injury, I have to give her some freedom to develop and exercise her own judgement.
That doesn’t always work. Last year she fell down the stairs at home. Her broken arm was a lesson for me and for her, and a year later I see her making sure she has a grip on the railing as she walks up and down the stairs. Sliding down the railing, though, shouting, “Look ma, no hands!”; that’s another matter!
She’s my baby. I don’t want her to feel pain, and my heart speeds up until she lands on her feet.
For a while after the cast was removed I was one of the “Get down from there” moms and then I read Stop talking about “risky play” for kids and use “adventurous” instead by Albi Sole of the Outdoor Council of Canada who says that kids need to feel they are being adventurous, that they’re taking risks, and that it’s up to parents to make sure that their play feels adventurous without them actually being at risk for getting seriously hurt. They need this adventurous play to grow and develop properly.
My daughter is living proof, and when I ask her why she likes to climb up the highest fence, her response is simple: “I like it because it’s not safe.”
So I’ve chosen to let my little girl feel like she’s taking risks, pushing her boundaries, and being adventurous. While she does she’s also being active and that’s really important to me. Those kids who are always told no perhaps end up either choosing sedentary activities or taking risks when their parents are not around. I want to be around for the risky play so that I can help her learn, safely.
For me, it’s worth it to withstand the judgmental looks in the playground, worth it to have to bite my own tongue, and worth it to be constantly assessing whether she’s in over her head or if she can handle whatever it is she’s taking on.
I’m not sure I’ll always know where the line is between her feeling adventurous and actually being in danger of getting more than a skinned knee. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and letting my gut guide me, and I also trust her to know her own limits. What I do know for sure is that I can’t say no every time she wants to push herself. While that might feel safe, it just doesn’t feel right.