Time and time again I go to home visits where parents tell me they need help because their toddler keeps climbing onto the couch or trying to get to the 2 stairs that lead into the lounge etc and they fear for their child’s safety. Now, I am all about teaching boundaries so that when you say “no” or “don’t touch” to the things that matter, they listen. In fact, from the moment a baby starts crawling confidently, we can introduce age-appropriate behaviour modification that is very effective. (Contact your local Munchkins parenting coach to find out how.)
However, there is a different issue here. Parents – especially first time parents – are so afraid that their child is going to get hurt, that, just short of padding the house like an asylum cell and wrapping the child in bubble wrap, they “baby proof” EVERYTHING and significantly limit the child’s exploration. I’m not judging! I’ve been a first time mom too. We envision our children having major head injuries and broken bones every time they seem a little unstable. But projecting our fears onto our developing children does them no good.
Did you know that when your baby crawls under the coffee table, lifts his head and bumps it, he is learning about body awareness and spacial relations which is the very important foundation of mathematics and writing skills? Did you know that when your baby climbs up onto the couch and stands up on it, he is developing very valuable bilateral integration and postural control skills? Bumps and bruises heal remarkably quickly. But the effects on the child’s motor development (co-ordination, fine and gross motor skills etc), sensory integration (ability to integrate sensory input in a healthy way), visual perceptual skills (essential for reading, writing, maths, hand-eye co-ordination etc), self-esteem etc that comes from being over-protective of your baby or toddler, has long term negative effects.
So what can we do? Don’t cage the baby, cage the danger. So if you are going to be doing ironing, stick yourself in the playpen with the ironing board and let your baby explore the surroundings. Free range babies develop beautifully. If your toddler wants to climb on the couch and ride the armrest like a “horsie”, don’t stop her. Instead, teach her how to climb on and off safely. If you are concerned about the tiled floor below, throw a couch cushion on the floor next to her to soften the landing if she falls. But don’t stop her from doing it.
If your baby has a little fall, don’t panic and don’t gasp! Instead, smile and say something sweet like “Oh boom-sadaisy! Did you fall down?” This will help baby know that it’s not the end of the world, that you are there for them and that you believe they have it in them to brush it off. Of course, if tears follow then it was a little more sore than expected and mommy or daddy’s kisses and hugs will be needed. Then move on! Focus on empowering rather than mollycoddling.
If your child is going down the slide and they slip off the side and fall onto the floor, scoop them up providing the hugs and kisses needed to make it all better. Then put them straight back onto the slide and help them to get it right safely. There’s a lot to be said about “getting back on the horse”. This prevents the child of being afraid of trying again next time and builds their resilience, teaching that failure is just a stepping stone to success – a great lesson in life.
I was that mom who encouraged her 15 month old twins to climb up onto the couch to get onto the window sill, to climb up to the top of the burglar bars and jump off onto the couch again. I just took the back-rest cushions off and lay them on the floor in front of the couch in case they had a fall, then cheered them as they climbed. I was that mom who never used a net around the trampoline. Instead I removed the middle section of the trampoline legs so that it would be closer to the ground. Then I taught my 10 month olds how to crawl on and off of the trampoline by themselves safely. And at 4 years, they had the trampoline at full height again. But because I took my children towards potential dangers and taught them how to do these things safely rather than keeping them away, my children (all 3 of whom were born very prematurely) have incredible motor skills, brilliant muscle tone, take appropriate calculated risks, are confident rather than fearful, and have such a zest for life.
I have to admit that it didn’t come naturally to me, despite being an Occupational Therapist and knowing how important this is. It was actually my adrenalin-junky husband that helped me to remember that bubble-wrapped babies turn into fearful, uncoordinated, accident-prone children, which often continues into adult-hood. As moms we instinctively want to protect our children from everything. But this can do a lot more harm than the little “owies” that you could have kissed better within seconds. So encourage your little ones to climb and explore so they can reach their full potential.