Guest Post from Nicole from Gateway Therapies
Is that such a good idea?
I was recently watching my girls, aged 3 and 4, play in a designated area at the local shopping centre. On an elevated patch, slightly away from the road and the thoroughfare of the restaurants, this area had two pieces of play equipment. One was a rocking thing, and the other a roundabout type thing that could be pushed around or sat on. My girls were joined by their 3 year old cousin, and I sat with my mother and sister at a table nearby. My sister and I reminisced about playgrounds we visited as a child, and remembered one particular piece of equipment that spun around, like the one in front of us. What suddenly dawned on me, was the stark difference between their design. The one our kids were using, was padded and low to the ground. All mechanisms were concealed to avoid trapping little fingers, and the ground beneath was rubber. Safe. Crazy safe. The one my sisters and I frequented on the other hand, was a death trap. Metal bars formed the ‘seat’. There were massive gaps between the bars and the mechanisms were exposed. It was reasonably high off the ground, largely due to the fact that a gully had worn beneath the equipment, from many pairs of feet dragging along while their bodies whirled around. The ground was pure dirt. And rocks. And sticks. Pointy sharp rocks and sticks. I remember there were falls, and cuts and scrapes, possibly resulting in tears shed and bandaid shortages, but gosh it was fun!
So I sat with my family watching the children, and had another sudden thought. Our kids are so protected these days! And in many ways this is a good thing. I am sure there are stats on how there has been a massive reduction in playground injuries etc, but what are our kids learning (or not learning) by being constantly bubble wrapped? How are they to learn good judgment, if not allowed to judge situations for themselves?
I was reading a discussion thread recently on Be a Fun Mum’s Facebook page on playing with your food, and there was some debate about this topic. The post had been a terrific idea for sensory play – coloured yoghurt to ‘paint’ with. Paint that could be eaten and smeared! Messy, fun. Well-meaning commenters wondered if this type of activity would confuse kids, encourage them to play with their food, and promote bad table manners. I feel that once again, these perceptions – this inability to give our children the benefit of the doubt – could have an impact on their ability to develop good judgment. I also fear that our children are missing out on amazing opportunities to explore and experience their world. Are we desensitizing them?
We need to give our kids the benefit of the doubt. Often they understand more than we think. We need to let them learn from their experiences. Within reason of course. But eventually you learn that standing up in the middle of a thing that spins really, really fast so much that you lose your balance and go crashing down onto thick metal bars, is a bad idea. And you learn that smearing coloured yoghurt on your highchair tray is fun, and okay at home if given the ‘go ahead’, but when you do that with your pumpkin soup at Sizzler, Mum gets really cross and so you probably shouldn’t do that there.
Some kids struggle with learning to ‘judge’, and that can be because they just haven’t developed that skill yet, or it may be a symptom of a developmental delay. Laying down the rules visually and verbally, and ensuring kids are aware of your expectations and consequences, can help.
One final word. Judgment is a skill that develops over time. Kids of all ages will continue to make bad decisions, misjudge, and take risks. As parents, it’s up to us to be informed, and choose when to step in, or step back. It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing!
How do find the balance between ensuring your children’s safety and allowing them the room to experiment?
Nicole is a privately practicing Occupational Therapist (OT) in Brisbane, Queensland and mother to 2 beautiful girls. More information about Nicole can be found here: www.gatewaytherapies.com.au
Read all Nicole’s posts here.