It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Risk-taking

In my last post, I suggested that children don’t need incessant adult hovering to be safe. In fact, my belief goes further than that: incessant adult hovering increases the risks to that child.

I began to develop this idea some years ago. I had a friend who micro-supervised her two children. When in the park, she was never more than a foot away, helping, guiding, assisting. “Put your foot here.” Every movement they made, there she was. “Careful, careful”. If they overreached, she caught them; if they slipped and fell, she picked them up. If they wanted to climb a structure and couldn’t manage it themselves, she’d lift them up. Her monitoring was diligent and unceasing.

When she wasn’t around, which wasn’t often, this woman’s children were two of the most accident-prone I’d ever seen! Clearly, they needed that tight supervision. Or did they?

As I watched her children, and compared them to other, less tightly monitored kids – the kids of those “unaware” moms, nannies, and caregivers who sat on the benches, sipped coffee, chatted with friends, or even read a book (shocking!) while their children played. These children weren’t constantly falling, slipping, landing badly after dropping from a platform, as were my friends’.

It became very clear to me that because her children were never allowed to take a risk, no matter how small, they had no capacity at all for judging them. In her very caring efforts to protect and encourage her children, she was actually robbing them of the ability to care for themselves.

They call themselves “involved”, and “caring” (which implies that the rest of us are ‘uninvolved’, and ‘uncaring’.) I would call them “overinvolved”, and “untrusting of their childrens’ capacities”. They see themselves as protecting their children. Perhaps they are, in the very short term; in the long term, they are endangering their children.

So, give yourself a break, Earnest Mommy and Daddy. Take your kid to the park, then park yourself on a bench. Enjoy the sunshine. Chat with a friend. If your child says “I can’t reach this tire!” , don’t jump up to lift them! Just call back, “Well, if you can’t manage it by yourself, it’s not safe for you.” Let them take a tumble now and then, and let your comforting be calm and matter-of-fact. “Whoops. Sometimes that happens when you swing by your arms, doesn’t it?” Dust them off, give them a kiss, and send them back to try again.

Trust them.

April 15, 2005 - Posted by | controversy, parenting, socializing

3 Comments »

  1. […] to bubble-wrap our children, to shield them from every possibility of harm. I’ve written before about how misguided this is. A little risk is a necessary thing, a good […]

    Pingback by Risk-Averse Parenting « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] raising children, we’re raising adults“? And my further witterings about “risk, risk-taking, teaching them to manage risk“? I live by all that stuff with my own […]

    Pingback by Oh, the Carnage « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | December 29, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] RISK: The Science and Politics of Fear, which I received for my birthday. Given how I feel about risk and risk-taking, I expect to thoroughly enjoy this […]

    Pingback by Knee-deep in Guts « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | February 17, 2009 | Reply


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