Hanging out at the local playground is a great way to observe lots of different kinds of parenting. I think I’ve seen them all. But the stand-out in this environment is the fearful parent. You know who I mean. The one hovering under the slide making sure that Junior doesn’t fall and hurt himself.
Injuries Are Bad, Right?
As we’ve become more safety conscious, the fear of injury has increased. And I think this is mostly a bad thing. Yes, a BAD thing. I’m not suggesting that we all stop wearing bike helmets and knee pads. Reasonable precautions that still allow freedom of movement are perfectly acceptable. What I’m talking about is the perpetual fear of minor, childhood injuries that plagues most parents.
Let’s go back to the playground and listen. “Don’t run! You’ll fall!” “You could get a splinter!” Followed by several choruses of “Be careful!” The problem with this is that we’re “be-careful”ing our kids so often that they’re becoming fearful of taking simple, minor physical risks. And that is a very bad thing.
Let’s talk about risk. If your child falls off of the slide, he could break his arm. That is a fact. Even with the best safety gear, physical exploration will sometimes result in injuries. But these injuries are rarely serious and almost never fatal. (Yes, almost never. Don’t freak out and keep reading.)
Contrast that with the outcome of children who aren’t physically active. Decreased physical activity is associated with increased weight gain and obesity in adults. In general, it looks like physical activity is the gateway to good adult health. Deprive your child of this, and you will increase their risk for early heart attack and stroke, along with a bunch of different cancers.
And then there’s the fear issue. So many young people are plagued by the fear that they aren’t adequate. They’re not sure they can meet a challenge. And they de-compensate when they fail. Kids who are encouraged to take reasonable risks develop confidence in themselves. They know they can do hard things. And when they fall, they get back up and try again.
Take the Lower Risk Option
I know it’s hard to see in the moment, but the risk of falling off of the swing and getting hurt is far lower than the risk of not getting on the swing at all. Our children’s mental and physical health depends on their ability to try new things and take small risks. So when you see those skinned knees and elbows, remember that your child is learning and becoming stronger with each bruise. Kiss the boo-boo, and let them go. They’ll be better for it.