is what my children are not afraid of.” ~Wanda Dupuy
Every parent feels this at some point. For Mrs. Dupuy, it was seeing her two-year-old at the top of a 50-foot radio tower, holding on with one hand and one foot, waving the other two at her.
Baby Dupuy’s balancing act has nothing on the one waged everyday by parents the world over. How do you balance the need for free exploration against safety? In a word: Don’t.
Don’t Bleed On My Floor!
As my nephew ran screaming into my kitchen, where I and his mother were enjoying a cup of coffee, he was bleeding on my tile from a large cut on his shin. His mother screamed and stood transfixed. I left the room and returned with a hand towel which I wrapped around his leg and applied pressure. I announced there would be no further screaming.
With a little coaxing, I discovered while out in the yard, he had disobeyed his mother and played in a ditch. As he jumped back and forth, he had slipped and fallen. I sent his mother out to the ditch to find what had cut him.
While she was outside, I asked a few more questions. The concentration on the answers had a calming effect. Just before he mother returned, I told him we would go to the hospital and get some stitches. Before the panic set in solidly, I told him how cool the scar would be to show his children when they wanted to play in a ditch. He smiled from ear to ear, as his mother returned with the bottom of a broken bottle, confused at his smile.
There are limits.
In the grand scheme of things, a few stitches may stretch the boundaries of free exploration, but bumps, scrapes and bruises do not. Pain is the body’s natural receptor for things we should not do again. Parents avoid pain for their children in many forms, but isolating them for all pain is far more detrimental.
Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!
I did anyway. I learned I had no desire to repeat that behavior. This came not from the pain, rather from the total absence of panic which ensued. “I told you not to do that,” was only fair, as burn cream was applied to my hand. Curiosity took over.
Why is it hot? Why doesn’t it smoke? What does the cream do?”
By the time I got all of the answers, I understood Don’t touch the stove applied to a lot of other things, too.
School of Hard Knocks
Children need to learn some things the hard way. Parents wish they didn’t, but without some of these explorations, children will not learn to apply the lessons they learn to other areas of their lives. Complex problem solving is learned by the outcomes of simple problem solving.
If I touch the stove, I burn my hand. If I burn my hand, I have to have a bandage and cannot go into the pool. I better not touch the stove.”
Same holds true for some emotional lessons as well. Rumors and bullying, while not the scenario the parent wishes the child into, are experiences which build character. Try as every parent might, character must be learned and earned, as it cannot be taught.
Choose your battles, parents. Avoid the broken glass, but a bike wreck which ends with a skinned knee can teach a child more about life than a lecture on safety.
Were you a stove toucher? What is a lesson one of your children learned through free exploration?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2008-2011
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