Taking risks on the playground

I’m not a helicopter parent but I’m not the most “laissez faire” mom either. Maybe I have been a bit slow to realize that our kids are past the toddler stage, when there was greater need to “hover” close by and keep them safe.

In my defense, at least one of our kids tends to be very cautious, so it’s not unusual for her to want me right there if she’s trying something new at the park. (Not that this happens very often, as she’s generally been more of a swinging and making-mud-pies kind of a girl anyways, and if I’m honest with myself, that’s always been fine with me.)

Our son is the climber, and I’ll usually be standing somewhat close by, not hovering but definitely ready to spring into action.

So I read last month’s Active for Life article about taking risks in the playground a little sheepishly. What really got me was the research indicating that kids who didn’t take risks on the playground were more likely to have health problems, become fearful and even develop mental illness.

Keeping that article in mind, the next time we went to the park, I decided that I would make a conscious effort to back off. So I pushed them on the swings, pointed out a little girl who looked to be a similar age as my daughter and then headed for an unoccupied bench.

Then something amazing happened. Without me realizing it, and with our son coaching her from above, our daughter attempted and mastered the rock climbing wall that is part of the big play structure. I didn’t even see her doing it because the bench was on the opposite side. At first all I saw was the top of her head, then big wide eyes, then the goofiest, proudest, gap-toothed, smile ever. When she pulled herself over, she jumped up and down and said: “Mama! I did it! I’m so proud of myself!”

She conquered the climbing wall a few more times and then, filled with confidence, she went over to face her own playground Goliath: the monkey bars. She hung on the first bar and then got one arm to the second bar. Sounds like a small thing, but to her it was a huge step: something she hasn’t even wanted to try in the past, convinced she couldn’t do it.

Was it a coincidence that she challenged herself this way on the day that I decided not to hover?

Since I’ve been involved with Active for Life, there have been definite shifts in our family. The kids are more confident and adventurous, more open to new activities and definitely up for trying things that might have been intimidating a few months or weeks ago.

The really cool thing is that, yes, I’m seeing changes, but at the same time I see them becoming more themselves. Fear and caution are taking a back seat to spontaneity and courage.

As a wise friend said to me the other day, we often inadvertently project limits onto our kids. For us, losing the limits has allowed them to decide for themselves who they want to be and what they want to do. And as their mother, I cannot think of anything more I would wish for them. Now all I have to do is keep getting out of their way.

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