Parenting with moderation seems to be one of the biggest problems for mums and dads these days.
We are constantly fed a diet of fear. Fear our kids will succumb to the latest germ. Fear our kids will be kidnapped or abused. Also fear about how they eat, how they sleep, how they walk and talk.
This feeling is reinforced with government regulations about childproof bottle lids to keep them safe from poison and gates, designed to keep kids in. There are even some schools that forbid kids to do cartwheels and handstands for fear of injuries.
With all this fear comes the urge to wrap those precious people in bubble wrap to protect them from all the possible dangers.
The problem with bubble wrap is you can’t spread your wings.
‘When I was your age I had to walk 15 miles, uphill both ways to school, then’…..well, you know the story.
It’s the grumpy old man story that outrageously, and often hilariously, points out we humans used to be more resilient – because we had to be.
It’s a different story these days when parents give in to the fear and become what is known as helicopter parents – those who hover over their kids like a helicopter, denying them of any space to explore.
The sad truth is that this over-protectiveness can actually be harming your kids.
Research has shown that kids who spend more time exploring on their own before the age of nine are less likely to have anxiety issues as adults.
According to early childhood professor Dr. Ellen Sandseter, there are six categories of risky play that kids need to experience in order to become confident and resilient adults. They are playing with heights, such as playground monkey bars, speed, like high slippery dips (slides), tools, elements, like fire and water, rough and tumble play and exploration away from adult supervision.
While these activities could result in injury, it is usually a relatively minor scrape and some would argue a broken bone is better than a broken spirit. Remember those wings that cannot spread.
Dr. Sandseter believes that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of mental health issues when they become adults.
Her research suggests kids who fall from a height between the ages of five and nine are less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18.
The fact is minor injuries are teachers. They are how children learn limits and what is safe. Children learn problem-solving and how to handle themselves in adversity. They learn resilience. When we fully understand this, we can embrace the scrapes.
I think I hovered (pardon the pun) between being a helicopter parent and one who allowed her kids to explore.
I insisted on driving them to school until they were virtually in high school. Part of the reason was because I wanted to get them there on time – we were always running late in the mornings.
Another reason was the highway they had to cross to get to the school. Another part was fear – of just about anything that could happen to them.
It’s not easy being a full-time helicopter parent to three boys so there were times they had the freedom to play in the bush with their mates, coming home to happily tell me of their adventures.
HOW TO BURST THE BUBBLE (WRAP) AND EMBRACE THE SCRAPES.
Along with the fear, parents feel comes a sense of panic, guilt, and shame when there is an injury.
The first step to bursting the bubble and embracing the scrapes is to deal with those feelings and understand that sometimes, no matter how diligent you are, things happen.
Accept that, as a parent, you will always be judged by others, unfair as that seems. If your child has an injury there will be those who think you have been negligent. If you are a very protective parent, there are those who will judge you for not allowing your kids to explore.
It’s a no-win situation unless you are prepared to ignore the judges and trust in yourself, and your kids.
It’s important to recognise what percentage of your protectiveness is truly about protecting the child and what portion is about protecting yourself from possible negative emotions as the result of an injury.
Remember that kids are risk-takers by nature. They instinctively know they need to explore to understand how things work. Stifle this and you stunt their social and emotional growth.
I don’t advocate putting children in harm’s way. However, forbidding unsupervised play could make you culpable of creating psychological problems for them later in life.
How can we tell our kids to spread their wings and be all that they can without giving them the space to do so?
Come back Monday and find out why safety rules can be harmful to adults too.
Wishing you the freedom to spread your wings and a gleeful week, Tamuria.