Margo asked me if she could hop up onto the kitchen counter. I wasn’t really feeling well and didn’t have much patience. I told her “No“. The sandwhich press was on, cooking our lunch, right next to where she wanted to sit. There were things she could knock over, I thought she might fall, etc. But, she kept nagging me and wouldn’t tell me why she wanted to sit up there. I was too tired to argue, so I told her to go grab the stool and do it herself. She skipped away and came back with the stool and climbed up onto the counter.
I had my back turned, making lunch, in my sick-ish middle of the day can’t-wait-for-naptime daze, when all of a sudden, from behind my back, I heard a yelp and then crying. I rolled my eyes… just as I suspected, Margo had touched the sandwhich press and had burned her little finger. She cried and cried and cried for at least 2 or 3 minutes. I just stood next to her and smoothed her hair, without interrupting her crying. When she finished crying, I asked if she wanted to run it under cold water. She said, “Yes.”
I didn’t tell her that she needed to be more careful, or that she should have listened to me, or that annoying, “I told you so.” But, I’m 100% sure she learned a lesson.
“Now... What happened?” I said
“I touched the sandwhich press and burned my finger!” She said.
“Yes, it was really hot, wasn’t it?” I repied
“It was hot, but I bet that sandwhich press isn’t as hot as the sun!” She told me.
I giggled, “Let’s go get some aloe vera from the balcony.” And, for the rest of the afternoon, she played with her little blade of aloe vera and nursed her burn.
Did she get hurt? Yes. Did she get hurt badly? No.
I’m a firm believer in the power of children learning through natural consequences. I let my kids use sharp knives, the hand held grater and scissors (with proper guidance and under close supervision, of course). I let them climb and tumble and fall. I’m not foolish about things though. I use caution around roads and I put safety plugs on the electrical sockets, because those are mistakes that could cost them their lives. It’s not like I encourage them to get hurt! But, little stuff, like trips, burns, cuts, bruises… I mean… that’s just life. That’s how they learn!
I tell my kids to “be careful“, but I do my best to use the phrase sparingly. I often find myself saying it automatically, but, if possible, I like to reserve, “be careful” for times when they’re about to do something that is actually dangerous. The other day, my little two year old got too close to a busy road and when I told her in a stern voice “Ah, Goldie, be careful, come away from the road.” she came running back without a second’s hesitation because she knew I meant business. But, if it’s not a dangerous situation, I don’t like saying “be careful” for three reasons.
1) It makes them stop, second guess their ability and sometimes startles them, when really they may be able to do the thing you think they can’t do (for example, climbing the stairs).
2) If I say it too often, they won’t listen for the times when I really mean it.
3) By letting them learn through natural consequences, they become more confident in their decision making ability and how to use their judgement.
I’ve heard it been said that a child is born with enough fear as there is salt in the food. In others words, they have enough fear to keep them safe, most of the time. It’s up to us parents to not give them too much fear, while at the same time, keeping them from really getting into danger. As a kid, I was always way more scared of things than I needed to be, and I don’t want to pass my scaredy pants tendencies down to my children.
What about ‘Accident Prone’ Kids?
Often, I find my kids will start doing things like climbing and jumping on the bed, simply if they haven’t had enough exercise that day. Another thing, is that when kids are in a grumpy mood and are probably in need of an emotional release, through tears, they are way WAY more accident prone. I welcome the tears that come from an accident prone day. I feel as if though the child just finds way to hurt themselves just to get those cries out. I know not everyone will agree with me on that one, but it’s what I’ve observed in my own kids as well as in others.
When I feel like saying, “Be careful” I look at the situation and think, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” If the worst possible scenario is a cut, scrape, bruise or minor burn, then I let it go. The first time I let Margo use the hand held grater, she was about 2 1/2. I showed her the correct way to use it, but she nicked her finger anyway.. She cried for a second, and kept going. She really wanted to learn how to use that grater! It was hard to bite my tongue and not say, “Be careful” a million times. at the end of it, she had only endured one tiny scrape and she had grated half the zuchinni. She was pretty proud of herself!
I’m not saying it’s bad to say “Be careful” but I think it’s certainly an overused phrase by most parents. Of course, we want our children to stay safe, but maybe sometimes it’s ok to let them learn the natural way.
This is my favorite Ted Talk of all times on Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
This post is not to say that you ditch common sense and let your kids trash your house. We also need to be keep our kids from getting badly hurt, but without instilling fear in them. There are other ways of bringing awareness to danger, like giving them options or discussion what could happen, etc. Also, if your child is always used to you saying ‘be careful’ and then you stop saying it cold turkey, they might not be used to using their judgement, so they could get hurt badly, it’s probably best to ease them into it.