Oh, for the sweet freedom of fearless exploration
Sometimes it's best to let kids discover their limits without worrying.
Our 6-year-old daughter, Coco, is fearless. She wants to do whatever she sees older kids do – water-skiing, ice-skating, rock climbing, tubing, downhill skiing, mountain climbing, and jumping off large rocks into water.
Even when my heart's in my mouth, I always encourage her. Probably because I was a skittish kid, I'm thrilled that Coco isn't. Most moms are quick to rein in their daughters at the playground, but I refuse to shriek, "Get down this instant!" in response to Coco's proud whoop from the monkey bars. I don't want my reaction to plant the idea that she should be scared.
The first time Coco climbed on the boulders in New York's Central Park, I knew that if she fell, I could be dealing with an injury. But her older cousin, Cooper, was climbing on the rocks, and Coco, at 2-1/2, wanted to keep up with him. I took a deep breath and let her climb, too. I was pretty confident Coco wouldn't fall, and I didn't have the heart to keep her in stroller jail while Cooper climbed. Still, to minimize my nervousness, Coco and I climbed on the rocks together, and I remained within arm's length of her.
Now, several years later, climbing on boulders in Central Park is as natural to Coco as swinging on a swing set. Watching her climbing, several people have remarked to me, "I wish I could bottle that fearlessness." I agree.
As she gets older, she'll learn to take fewer risks. But until then, her bravado delights me.
Recently my husband, Phil, and I took Coco to spend the day at the New Jersey shore. As Coco and Phil climbed on a jetty's rocks while I read, I overheard someone say, "That little girl shouldn't be climbing on the rocks. She could crack her head open."
Give me a break, I thought. One of the great pleasures of childhood is climbing on rocks.
Coco is already missing out on some of my favorite childhood experiences due to safety concerns. As it is, she'll never know the sweet freedom of spending all day on her bike exploring. Don't take away the joy of hopping around on rocks, too.
I understand the value of bike helmets, car seats, and sunscreen. But attempting to remove all risk from children's lives is impossible.
Furthermore, when adults try to do so, children suffer. The pursuit of a no-risk childhood has taken the joy – and the learning – out of pursuits like messing around with boats, fishing, and scampering on rocks.
Children who never do slightly risky things when they play don't learn to trust their instincts. They won't develop confidence in their abilities or know what they're capable of.
I feel an occasional bruise is a small price to pay to build her feelings of confidence and independence.
Coco is full of joy and courage. She's proud of her nimbleness and confident in her abilities to scamper out of danger. Preserving that confidence is important to me.
If that means giving her the freedom to fail, to fall occasionally, it's worth it.