Breathe Through the Fear…

 

Protectiveness is one of the strongest instincts we have as parents. We would walk over burning coals, fall out with friends and family, and literally take a bullet to protect our children. Have I mentioned what I would do to someone who harmed my children in any way before? However, over-protecting our children is not good. In doing so we are stifling our children’s instincts, possibly to detrimental effect.

 

From the moment they are born, children are curious about the world around them and do everything instinctively. This can be scary to watch as they wobble trying to sit up, teeter between sharp-cornered furniture whilst learning to walk, and climb sheer heights on unstable home-made towers of anything that comes to hand. Just terrifying for us who know that they could bump their head, cut themselves or possibly break a bone or two if they fall – but brilliant for the children that are allowed to follow their instincts as they will learn and develop as nature intended.

 

I thought I was pretty relaxed in my parenting. I generally let my children figure it out for themselves, with a few ground rules in place. I take them on walks along unprotected quays, safe in the knowledge they will not run lemming-like for the edge. I have taught my eldest daughter how to light candles and handle sharp knives. So far so good, right? However, I recently went to Powerscourt Waterfall with a friend, and realised I am not as ‘zen’ as I imagined. As she let her children galavant about the lake, I was anxious. I took a leaf out of her book and let the children navigate the lake on stepping stones – they got stuck here and there but, as they were left to their own devices and allowed to follow their instincts, they figured it out (and had a ball). Worst case scenario was that they would have gotten a little wet, which they also did!

We're fine Mum!

We’re fine Mum!

I recently read an article about a playground in Wales where parents are not allowed in, and I must say I was cheering reading it. That playground seems so extreme to us but what it is really doing is allowing the children to hone their instincts and figure things out for themselves. Invaluable lessons that will stand to them their whole lives. So what are the signs that we are being over-protective with our children? Here are a few examples I have come accross in my twenty odd years around young children:

 

  • Putting a crash helmet on your baby when they start moving about and learning to sit, stand etc. I have seen more than one infant donning a bicycle helmet during these times. Yes of course they will not get that bump on the noggin but, guess what, they need that bump on their noggin to learn how to do these things. They will of course learn these things eventually anyway but the children who didn’t get the bang or bump will be less likely to avoid future possibly more serious injuries..
  • Cutting up all their food into teeny tiny pieces. Seeing babies gag and splutter as they are learning to eat can be scary but they are instintively gagging and spluttering so as to avoid choking not because they are choking. Whipping the food out of their mouths and cutting it in to teeny tiny pieces is hampering their ability to learn how to eat properly and can create bad eating habits to boot.
  • Sterilising every toy, cup, spoon and surface they touch to prevent germs. Good hygiene is of course important but so are germs. Exposure to everyday germs is necessary for them to develop good immunity. I am not saying inject your child with a dose of salmonella, but no-one ever died from the ‘five second rule’ either.
  • Not allowing them out of your sight, at home. Once your house is pretty much child-proof ie: chemicals and harmful objects out of reach, front door and high windows locked (and unreachable), cords and wires out of reach, and so on, give your child a little freedom. Allow them to play alone in their room or the garden for that matter. Keep an eye out of course but don’t constantly watch them. They cannot develop their own independent instincts with an over-protective parent hovering at all times. We have all heard stories of children who have suffered accidents (sometimes even fatal) and their Mum only left them alone for a minute, but I truly believe if you allow your children to learn how to go about their own home and garden alone they are less likely to suffer a bad accident then the constantly watched child left alone for a moment.
  • Following them around the playground, and lifting them on and off every toy. Playgrounds are designed with children in mind, particularly nowadays with the soft surfaces and rounded edges. Let them climb up and down their chosen toy alone! Children really need to learn their limitations when it comes to physical activities and they WILL NOT learn if they are not allowed to. They may well slip and fall, they may even break something or worse still suffer from concussion but they will have learnt their limitations at an age when they can heal quickly and move on. If you lift a child up onto an inappropriate toy that they can not climb themselves, then you are doing them a lot more harm then good.
  • Not allowing them to get dirty. No brainer – a child playing outside in the dirt is happy! They are using their imagination, developing their creativity and most importantly are having fun. The germs don’t matter – get them to wash their hands before eating but a little dirt under the fingernails is a good thing!
  • Keeping them away from water. Be it the sea, a pond, fountain or pool. Water is dangerous and drowning can happen quickly. Rather than keeping them at a safe distance at all times encourage them to touch it, paddle in it – teach your child about the dangers of water by letting them be around it under your supervision as opposed to keeping them away from it at all times. Splash water on their face in the bath, dunk them, let them splutter and realise how unpleasant it is so that they hone their instincts and learn from it.
  • Never lighting a fire! Children have a natural curiosity when it comes to fire but they will feel the heat long before they get close enough to touch the flames and their instincts will kick in to tell them this is dangerous stuff. That said never leave a child unattended around an open fire, they wont purposely touch it but accidents happen and they could fall in.
  • Not allowing them to run, jump and climb! Children do everything at top speed and no they don’t see the dangers that we as adults do. However, they will learn about the risks from their grazed knees and twisted ankles pretty quickly. They will not learn the dangers if they don’t get the opportunity to do so, and this could lead to far more serious injuries when they are older.

     

    Let them climb. Even if it terrifies us!

    Let them climb. Even if it terrifies us!

I am sure there are lots of other examples of over protecting our children but these are a few that I have witnessed and done myself! Protecting our children is a basic instinct that we as parents follow – over-protecting them is something we have learnt from fear, but it will do our children a lot more harm then good in the grand scheme of things.

 

What do you think? I love any and all feedback so please put any thought or comments below.

 

Thanks for reading,

Aisling

 

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