Yeah, That’s My Kid At The Top Of The Play Structure, & She’s Fine
We’ve gotta let our kids take some risks.
My daughters and I are at a playground in northeast Portland. Archer, who is five, loves the swings. She laughs and hoots as I push her higher and higher. Meanwhile Grey, who is two, heads straight for the 12-foot-tall climbing structure. She doesn’t pause to look for a route to the top; she just heads up, full of confidence and determination.
Soon she’s waving at me from the peak, then she circles the entire structure, ten feet off the ground. I’m so proud looking up at her, and I trust her abilities completely.
But looking around, I see some other mothers giving me some serious side eye. I suspect they must think I’m wildly negligent. I’ve had parents ask whose child that is way up at the top, did I realize she’d gone so high? Didn’t I recognize how dangerous it was?
But she was fine. She was sure-footed and fearless, because she had an excellent sense of her abilities and limits. And she developed that awareness by trying new things.
My daughters were athletes from the jump. The little one was not only extremely active, she was a climber. We had to abandon the high chair by the time she was 10 months old — no strap could hold her.
We lived in the country then, and both my kids were used to running and jumping and climbing on whatever they found. I learned early on that when the baby was on a mission to get to the top of anything it was best to just let her get on with it. Interference was the thing that would cause her to lose her confidence and her footing.
The only time Grey ever hurt herself was by falling off a tree branch when she was 8. She was up there reading during her sister’s soccer practice; when a bee came buzzing around her head, she was unwilling to drop Ramona the Pest and so used her other hand to wave the bee away. Unbalanced, she slipped right off.
She suffered a mild fracture and had her arm in a cast for a few weeks. Her dad and I rolled our eyes and handed out hugs. That injury didn’t slow her down a bit. Not long after, I watched her peddle around the driveway on her unicycle. The arm with the cast was held up for balance while she used the other to hold a cell phone to her ear. The next day I purchased supplemental accident insurance.
You see, I always assumed my kids would take a trip or five to the emergency room. To me that’s just a part of childhood. If you never have an accident, maybe you’re playing it a little too safe.
We’re not doing our kids any favors by hovering around them, begging them to be careful, and refusing to let them ascend playground equipment by themselves. They end up frustrated, and we keep making more work for ourselves.
If your child is never allowed to climb a ladder or explore a teeter totter how will she develop balance and coordination?
We have to learn to trust our children. They’re more in tune with their bodies than we are. By gently pushing their physical limits they’ll figure out what they can and can’t do. They’ll get stronger, become more capable.
Will they ever get hurt? Maybe. But what’s better; a life of absolute safety and comfort, or one filled with rich experiences? And seriously, are there two more useless words in the language than “be careful”?
So yeah, that was my toddler scaling the climbing wall, shimmying to the top of the swing set, sitting in the treetops.
She went from tree-climbing to unicycle-riding to aerial dance, hurdles and pole vaulting. She’s had a few minor injuries, but the confidence she’s gained through pushing her limits far outweighs any damage she’s sustained.
Julia Williamson is mother to two very nearly adult daughters. She's a freelance writer, a decluttering wizard, and an inveterate optimist, regardless of reality. Visit her at thesunnysideofthestreet.substack.com