In the most recent edition of Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine, Room to Grow, we learn the importance of giving our children the space to develop through their experiences, known as play. In the article “Risky Play” by Dr. Peter Gray, we learn the importance of play and the harmful consequences of play deprivation. Today it’s more important than ever to understand that while we aim to protect our children, we may be harming them by over-supervising.
As the mother of two young boys this topic really caught my attention. I’m a big supporter of continuum parenting as I believe it creates a strong and secure sense of self in our little ones who learn to trust that their needs will be met. Continuum parenting is about trusting that your child knows his or her needs by responding to their cues. At an early age their needs are frequent nursing and touch, but before long their needs become risky play. This transition was challenging for me, as it is for many parents. It seems all too easy at this stage to slide from continuum parenting into helicopter parenting which contradicts the principles of continuum parenting.
It was with my second son, Corbin, when I learned that my intentions to “helicopter” for their safety was actually interfering with their play. In my attempts to provide them with the perfect atmosphere to learn and grow I had stripped them of their opportunities to live and learn. I was trying to teach them how and what to learn from each situation.
My youngest son, who is four years old, is preverbal and has a significantly limited understanding of language. Verbal warnings such as, “Careful, you might fall!” or “Watch out!” are wasted on him. This used to mean I had to be hypervigilant in my efforts to protect him from the world, but out of pure exhaustion and an inability I slowly began to let things slide. What I found fascinating was the acceleration in my son’s learning when I began to allow him to account for his own capacity to handle things.
I soon wanted to provide my older son with this same environment, but he would too easily respond to my verbal warnings. I almost had to duct tape my mouth shut in the beginning just to give him the opportunity to engage in some risky play and learn his own abilities to cope and manage in sticky situations. It seemed life started handing him more incredible learning experiences the less I intervened and I soon began to understand that, by hovering, I had been creating an environment where my children had to learn to live—an environment where I was needed in every situation.
Granted, it’s difficult to not intervene when someone takes a toy away from your child, or a toy gets stuck in a tree, or when your child uses as a tree branch as a balance beam. But the look of pride on a child’s face when they learn to master these little obstacles in life is priceless and I’m glad I learned to stop taking those victories away. When children only learn to avoid our warnings or discipline, the experience is lost. As a parent I wonder how many times I taught the lesson that the world is a scary place and we can’t handle it without supervision. I want my children to exercise caution, but I don’t want them to live in fear.
I know we live in a culture of protective parenting, and I also see the millions of reasons why. There is a balance that must be struck because in our efforts to protect our children we deprive them of their innate ability to live and learn. We should trust them as they live in the wide world around them, because that’s the only way they will learn to trust themselves. One day when something comes along that we can’t protect them from, what else will guide them to bring them through?
As the quote on the back cover of the magazine says: “Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” As parents the hardest thing we may ever do is break the cycle and trust our children to experience to the fullest the lives that are ahead of them.
Janaiah von Hassel, CEO of Kiro Kidz, is a proud mother of two young boys, Landon and Corbin, who she happily nurtures alongside her husband, Matthew. Janaiah turned to chiropractic after receiving her son’s autism diagnosis and, in doing so, discovered that her entire family benefited from care. In her desire to spread the word, she has found great fulfillment in her work with Dr. Todd Defayette on the creation and development of Kiro Kidz. This animated children’s book tells an exciting tale of the benefits of chiropractic care.