It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Risks and Risk-taking

Emily is done her lunch. I remove the tray to her highchair, and lift her. The entire chair comes up with her.

“Oops! Didn’t see the belt under your little fat tummy!”

Which tells you that I don’t always strap the children in, doesn’t it?

Well, not with Emily I don’t. Emily, who just sits and methodically munches through her meal, then says “DOWN!” and waits to be released. Now, Timmy? He gets strapped down every time. Every time. Otherwise, he’d be tap-dancing on the dining table in seconds.

Some risks are not worth taking, ever, of course. Children in my care are always put in CSA-approved safety seats, properly tethered to the floor of the vehicle. Even a gentle fender-bender can be disastrous to the child not properly restrained. Not an appropriate risk.

But, some days our societally-approved caution reminds me of a game you learn in drama class, “Mountain From Molehill”. Game in which someone starts with a mundane problem – “Oh no! I stubbed my toe!” Players take turns in compounding the gravity of the situation: “And if I stubbed my toe, I might have to limp.” And if this, then that, each one worse than the one before.

The limp makes you walk more slowly, and you miss your bus, which makes you late for an important interview, which means you don’t get the job, which means you have no money, which puts you out on the street, which means you have no food, which means you starve. Almost every scenario ends with

“And then I might DIE!”

Fun game, huh??? Well, yes, it is a fun game, when it’s a game. But we’ve turned every single moment of a child’s day into a potential life-and-death moment, and I, for one, am weary of it.

Don’t let your child play with latex balloons…
Don’t lose the corner snipped off the end of the milk bag…
Never leave your child alone with the family pet…
Never let a toddler hold an infant…
Never let the family dog come tobogganing with you…
Always stay within an arm’s length of your child at the park…


Honestly, it’s like living an episode of House.

Strap that child into his high chair or he might stand up and if he stands then he’ll fall, and maybe hit his head and maybe get a concussion or end up in a coma or break his neck…

Or. More likely, he’ll slide forward a bit, get wedged uncomfortably under the tray and learn it’s better to sit still.

It’s a matter of evaluating the likely consequences of a risk. In a car, the tiniest of bumps can have life-threatening consequences for an unsecured child. In my dining room, what are the risks? Really, actually, likely risks? I’m always within a metre or two of the child. I can see if he/she is trying to escape. I can intervene if the child is in danger – but I may very well choose to let the child be uncomfortable for a few seconds before I rescue him. I may even decide to let the child solve her own dilemma, knowing that the discomfort will teach her more than my careful explanations ever could.

Of course, one measures the risks. Timmy is always strapped in. Emily isn’t always. In part, this is pragmatism, not risk management. Timmy is so much more likely to make for the hills, I don’t want to have to be lifting him back eight times a meal. But with Timmy, there is more of a risk, and I judge it necessary to protect him from himself, for at least a little while longer. I’ve been doing this for 12 or so years now, and my own kids over and above that. Not once in all this time, have we had a Serious High Chair Incident.

Risk is part of life. Kids have to learn to evaluate risk, take the ones worth the risk and manage them safely, and avoid the ones not worth the risk. Kids will grow to be adults, who will have to manage risk every day of their lives. Which means we have to learn to let them.

November 13, 2007 Posted by | parenting, socializing | , | 15 Comments