I was feeling amused by the forays of my toddler. As I sat on the sand at the edge of a shallow, swift flowing creek, she gained confidence dipping her toes into the chilly water, running back to me, and then climbing the sand hill behind me. I got to thinking about how all of our kids gained their ‘adventure legs’ as toddlers, and wanted to share some tips on how we have done this! 1. WE LIMIT OUR USE OF NEGATIVE / FEARFUL STATEMENTS
Rather than peppering our conversations with “be careful” or “you will fall”, we let them explore and begin to gain understanding for what their own bodies are capable of. The goal here is to feed their zest for exploration and keep them safe without using fear-filled comments to do it. Some kids really pick up on parental anxiety and it can prevent them from trying because they are afraid that something bad is going to happen. We teach them what they need to do, rather than what could go wrong. 2. WE TAKE THEM ON UNEVEN GROUND
Toddlers become competent very quick. We hold their hand as they walk along an uneven rocky river bed or beach. Or we let them do it themselves. We let them see if they can climb a steep slope. They rock hop. They walk on logs lying on the ground. Or we let them scramble on boulders or try and climb trees.
3. WE DON’T MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF THEIR OWIES
Early on in our parenting journey we were introduced to the concept of the ‘boring cuddle’. For our family it has worked awesome. Essentially if they hurt themselves or are upset about something, we acknowledge the hurt by saying something sympathetic or understanding like “ow, that must of hurt!”. We look at the owie, be interested and caring, and then give the boring cuddle. We hold them, rock them, cuddle them, let them be sad for a minute and then move on. We could do that by going back to the activity, suggesting a new one or if necessary letting them know that it’s going to be OK. I believe we do our children a disservice if we let them think that the minor bumps and bruises of life are bigger than they actually are.
4. WE ANTICIPATE WHEN THEY WILL NEED SUPPORT
Loosely speaking, it is useful for these little people to try things for themselves. Most kids (though not all) have an innate ability for self-preservation. But they do need our parental support to gain these skills. As the adult, we are doing the risk management assessment in our head, and it’s our responsibility to keep the risk within acceptable limits. It is very beneficial to let them experiment while they are close by our sides, so we could break their fall or protect them from harm, if needed. If you can see that they could stake themselves with a branch, naturally you would protect them from that, much like you would protect a climber who is bouldering. As they grow, we will begin to teach them how to understand and manage risk for themselves. We might say something like “we want to make sure our feet stay in the middle of the log because those boulders down below might hurt us if we were to fall. Look ahead because that helps you to stay balanced”. By the time they are about 3 years old they can be quite competent little people that need less and less support.
Back to the story I started with on the creek bank…..My toddler in her increasing boldness, wanted to cross the creek to be with the kids who were already playing on the other side. It’s about a foot deep and swift flowing and definitely not safe for her alone. She is ankle deep on the edge, and I know she wants to go further. I tell her to stop and let her know she needs to wait for me to help her. I love that she wants to attempt this and I want to support her. I hold her hand and together we venture out. The cold water gets to the top of her thighs and she indicates she wants me to pick her up, which I happily do. I take her to the other side and because all of our kids have been raised this way, her big sister wants to help her explore on the other side of the creek. It’s a satisfying process all round. As her parents we love to see her growing competence, her siblings get a kick out of helping her, and she is pretty stoked with her achievements too. So much learning and they don’t even know it.
In conclusion! We are Close. We are helping. We are encouraging. We are directing. We are fostering fun and adventure! Hip hip hooray 🙂