Cotton Wool Kids

October 15, 2009

Zoo trip 044

Imagine a childrens’ playground on a Sunday afternoon. Parents, strollers, kids, climbing equipment, slides, and a large rock stack for climbing. Chaos.

When kids get to the rock stack (it’s big, like 15 meters high) the parents rush over and tell the kids that’s off limits. There are very few kids on the rock stack, the only ones seemingly allowed up there are older boys of at least 7 or 8. Parents are so afraid of kids falling and hurting themselves, they are totally overprotective and do not allow kids to explore their environment in a natural way.

Girls are generally not allowed on the rock stack, because it’s dirty. Girls are hovered over when they achieve any altitude, warned to ‘be careful’. Boys are allowed a little more leeway. A little.

If we were so stupid as a species that our offspring did not have an innate knowledge of how to remain safe at height (and around large bodies of water) we would be extinct. Kids if left to their own devices from a very young age will learn by appropriate stages how to manage such situations. If not allowed these learning experiences, one day Mum and Dad will not be there and kids will have accidents because they have not been able to learn how far they can safely go, yet they have the physical maturity to attempt more than they have learned to cope with.

I put this into practice with my son before he could walk (or crawl properly – he did a weird commando thing for ages). He showed me he was interested in helping me in the garden by cutting grass. So I gave him a knife, at 6 months of age. I simply gave him the handle, and said just once, the other end is sharp and could hurt you. I pressed it gently to his palm to illustrate, and left him to it. He cut the grass. He never cut himself. His dad came home early one day and saw him with the knife and totally flipped out, but by that time this had been going on for several days.

My point is, kids, and indeed babies, have an innate knowledge of their own physical safety that is strong. If allowed to learn at their own pace, they will grow stronger and more confident.

I put two caveats on this approach to raising physically confident kids; electricity and vehicles. Neither are a part of our evolutionary history. These are the things we need to be protective about.

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