The only thing I am afraid of…

 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.

Balancing Act

Playing at the playground

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.

English: six sutures stitches in achilles heel...

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.

You Choose

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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  1. Wonderful post. Over-reactions and hoverering over children guarding them over-excessively is a bad idea, for at times they must learn by doing, actually learning more in real life. This reminds me of kids sticking their tongues on frozen steel pipes outside. Every kid has to try that lesson at least once….”:))

    • There now (How disturbing is this?) a term for such nannihood: Helicopter Parenting. The parents look like bees hovering and diving over a flower, but instead of seeking the sweet nectar, they are guarding the bloom from everything, including the sun. Shameful, really. Red.

  2. bear

     /  December 10, 2011

    I was told dont do that on more occasions than I care to speak of. Guess what I learned is what it was like to learn a hard often painful lesson. No I wasn’t dumb. In my case I was left to my own devices and far be it from me to admit I’m a little bull headed at times, I never went home crying because I LEARNED a lesson. And if I had went home crying I would have been told I TOLD YOU THAT WOULD HAPPEN IDIOT. Needless to say learning life’s hard lessons is something most kids do not learn when MOMS and DADS take the bullet for them. YOU CAN’T LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES IF YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE THEM. Bear

    • I cannot begin to address in a comment how many things are wrong with the “I told you so” statement in your comment. That may be fodder for a later post, though.

      You have made the point, though. Some lessons absolutely have to be learned the hard way. Thank you for sharing, Bear. Red.

  3. I agree. AND…the more you have, the more you relax, but you know that.

  4. Alexandra Heep

     /  December 10, 2011

    I was the parent people hated because in the stores I always answered questions thoroughly. People had to listen to conversations between me and my toddler when I actually did explain why the sky was blue. Her dad was the same with her, she always got answers. Now she is a writer with a thirst for knowledge. Well, I thought it beat having to listen to other parent’s children scream or watch their rude behavior while the parents do not correct it.

    • I wish more parents spent the time to explain things to children. For so long, “because I said so” has been the status quo, very few people actually question anything. Congrats on a writer! May have to pick your brain about that for another post. Red.

  5. Amen! Kids need to be allowed to feel the consequences at times to really learn the lesson. If you choose which battles to allow them that priviledge, you can keep them relatively safe and still teach them what they need to know to survive in the big bad world.

    • Thank you, Ang. I cannot get over the rush-to-the-doctor-and-test-for-typhoid every time a child sneezes, either. But I suspect that is another post altogether 😉 Red.

  6. When the school of hard knocks was in session, my mother kept a straight face and urged us on to greater accomplishments. She admitted later, that her heart was often in her throat. Boy, do I love Mom. (And Dad too. Dad’s no slouch!)

    • It is a great thing to hear parents laud their parents for letting us get our just desserts every now and then. Welcome to M3! Look around and make yourself at home! Red.

  7. No I never touched the stove but I did learn a very good lesson when it came down to throwing some glass from a broken bottle, that cost me a trip to the hospital and four rather painful stitches in my finger but hey the lesson was learnt 🙂

    Children will always learn from their inquisitiveness, or stupidity…

    Have a wicked rest of weekend Red 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

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