My three and five year old daughters are very fond of a piece of equipment at our local playground. It’s essentially a ladder that is curved into a half-circle. The task is to figure out how to get from one side to the other. They climb on it, sit on top, and dangle underneath it. That it is also bright purple only adds to the allure.
Where they see fun, I see danger. They are going to break their legs. Here comes that head injury. Summer in a cast will stink.
Do I keep them from this toy? No. Of course not. I just direct their every move: “Foot here, hand here. Don’t step there. Put your bottom there. No, no. Yes. STOP!” When they get to the bottom, I breathe a sigh of relief.
This happens a lot at the playground. And probably in other aspects of their young lives as well. It turns out there is a name for what I am doing: “helicopter parenting.” Originally coined by psychologist Haim Ginnot, the term has come to refer the overprotective parent – the ones that wrap their children in bubble wrap before letting them loose on the playground and pad them head to toe for a bike ride around the block. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it turns out that many parents are falling in the trap of overprotecting our children. And I am no exception. (Though, I swear I don’t put them in bubble wrap, I DO make them wear helmets when riding scooters and bikes).
Yesterday, as I was reading an article about helicopter parenting I came across this quote: “You have to come to terms with the fact that while you can limit some risk in your child’s life, the really risky stuff, you can’t eliminate all risk.” In fact, according to playground safety expert and professor Joe L. Frost, “reasonable risks are essential for children’s health and development.” (See, The Overprotected Kid). By hovering and helicoptering over their every move on the playground, I am stunting my children’s growth. Wow.
Must. Stop. Hovering.
It is important that my children take risks. It is important that I give them the space and independence to make mistakes – yes, even falling off the jungle gym or getting stuck at the top of the too-big slide. They need the opportunity to figure out how to help themselves, to problem-solve and think creatively.
So, despite the risks of skinned knees and even broken bones, I am going to step back and let them fall a little in order to learn how to stand up again. These are reasonable risks. I don’t need to protect them from every small thing. But as their mother, I do need to do my best to give them a safe and secure foundation to start off from. The best thing I can do to ensure that they have the opportunity to run and jump and stub their toes is to vaccinate them.
Getting hit by a ball is one thing. Getting hit by a vaccine-preventable disease because I chose not to vaccinate them, is another. Reasonable risks are ok. Stupid ones are not. And not vaccinating is a dumb risk to take.
So go and let your kids run around like crazy people. Let them fall down and get bumps and bruises. Let them even put that dirt covered binky back in their mouth. Let them have experience some risks. But prevent them from experiencing the really dangerous risks. Make sure they are fully vaccinated. Everyone, including them, will thank you.