Subtitle: Raising a purposeful child.
Raising a male child who has boundless energy and is now learning to stand and cruise on his own has a way of frazzling the nerves…
And polarizing beliefs.
In witnessing Jay’s adventures, we found ourselves confronted with a number of parenting issues – not the least of which is baby-proofing.
We have a number of …uh…hazards in our home for some body who is short, has poor balance, cannot talk and is only just learning to walk.
We protected against the things that could KILL him…we have latches on the cupboards that contain poisonous items or glass/heavy items. We have plug covers on all plugs. We have gates at the stairs and the crib lowered to its lowest possible point. It won’t be long before we add some kind of protection to keep him INSIDE the house and OUT of certain rooms.
But beyond these obvious safety precautions, we hit the gray area:
I’m not a germophobe, nor am I the type to prevent him from touching something he’s dropped on the floor (he LIVES on the floor…if anyone has antibodies to what’s on the floor, it’s him!). You’re probably not going to find me constantly rinsing off his pacifier or feverishly vacuuming the floor.
We chose not to put guards around our coffee table or fireplace hearth (which is only 2 inches off the ground anyway), not to remove the dog bowl from the floor and not to place objects out of his reach (unless they are small enough for him to choke on.)
We want him to pay attention to the world around him and understand from his experiences that this is hard or that will poke and make a purposeful decision about how to navigate.
I think this approach will garner praise from some, but criticism from others.
My perspective is that you cannot learn to navigate a pointy, object-filled world if everything has bumpers. And you certainly do not learn what you should and should not touch if everything you might touch is placed out of your reach. You do not learn what to treasure, how to respect other people’s boundaries, or how to get out of tough situations in the padded, protected, sterilized world.
Our son has evidence that mommy believes this way…he is a walking bump, bruise, and scratch factory…
However, I believe firmly that children both hear and comprehend more than we give them credit for and that there is no better teacher than natural consequence.
In this new process of navigation and risk, we found ourselves telling him to “be careful” a lot.
So…we made a choice not to say it anymore. Why should we always “be careful”? What is the real risk if we are not “careful” in some situations?
And more importantly, how do I parent my child through the discovery of new things? How do I teach safety without teaching fear? How do I teach him to learn from his mistakes and use the experiences as reference for the next step?
With children my son’s age, you don’t really have to worry much about squashing his resolve to get things done. He has boundless energy and an endless willingness to try things. It is this spirit we want to continue to foster in him.
I can hear some of you saying, “But he’s so young…”
But the patterns of our lives are supposedly SET by the time we are three. If you take the approach of conventional wisdom, by that age, we have been told “no” and “be careful” a bazillion times. We have been caged, contained, and strapped-in for virtually every situation. We have often had every corner padded, every stair gated, every cupboard latched and every door locked. It just doesn’t seem like the kinds of patterns that build a successful, out-of-the-box thinker can be fostered in an over-cautious home.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to be letting him touch a hot stove or play in his pool unsupervised. Frankly, he doesn’t even navigate the living room unsupervised.
Just because I’m watching doesn’t mean I’m interfering with his process. I recognize there are areas FAR outside of his expertise. But I feel he needs to get himself into those situations and seek assistance rather than just not getting into them in the first place.
Often he surprises me and handles difficult things quite well.
It’s just so important that he be able to look at a situation and make some choices about how much caution he needs use, without me creating artificial fear that might prevent him from trying something and being great at it.
He needs to understand that actions have consequences…and that getting hurt doesn’t mean you quit… that sometimes you will get in over your head, but its ok to ask for help.
Now, instead of “be careful” you might hear, “Great Job!” “How fascinating!” “Wow!!!” or “You go, buddy!”
We try not to react when he falls or stumbles.
If he cries, we pick him up, tell him he’s ok and kiss it to make it better. Then send him back on his path of discovery.
And we talk…a lot. We try to give him the words that describe what he’s doing.
We ask him a lot of questions. And we wait for him to answer (even though we don’t understand a word of it, its about the dialog.)
And hopefully, we can teach him to look out over his life, assess his situation, decide how much risk he’s willing to take and then proceed with confidence through whatever it is.
And if he falls, we pray he will say, “How fascinating!” and get back on the path to discovery.
Have a purposeful day, everyone!!!