Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"I Did It!" vs. "Don't Do That!"

We all want our children to be safe. We want to protect them from harm and keep them from any situation that might possibly be dangerous.

We also want our children to be independent. We want them to be able to think and do things for themselves without constantly having to ask for our help.

Unfortunately, those two concepts are often at odds with each other. It's hard to let your child do everything for himself while also making sure he is completely safe. And if you are continually protecting her from harm, it's difficult for her to learn how to do anything on her own.

It's a parental conundrum.

This has been especially problematic with our youngest son. He's not quite two and a half years old, yet he thinks he is capable of doing everything his older siblings can do. His brother and sisters were generally cautious; he is not.

Much of his independence manifests itself in his ability to climb. He'll climb into his brother's loft bed. He'll climb to get things on the high shelf in the refrigerator. If he wants something that's on top of the piano, he'll climb to get it. One of his favorite activities is climbing up all the way into his car seat in the mini-van. When he gets there, he'll proudly declare, "I did it!"

I did it!

His self-satisfied shouts of "I did it!" aren't just for climbing. He'll say it after doing anything he thinks might have been a little difficult, like taking off his socks, correctly identifying the letter "V," or making the cow pop up on the pop-up farm toy. As a parent, it's delightful to see his confidence growing with each shout of "I did it!"

Sometimes, however, his confidence overshoots his abilities, like this morning when I was quizzing his older brother on his spelling words. "Spell 'envelope,'" I said, but as big brother started to answer, the little brother shouted, "No! I do it myself!" He then, with great surety, told me that 'envelope' is spelled. "e-o-e-h-i-j."

That's all good and well, but then there are times when the things he tries just aren't safe, and we have to counter with yells of "Don't do that!" It's great that he can climb to the top of the piano, but he really shouldn't. He thinks he's capable of unloading the dishwasher (even though he can't reach the cupboards to put anything away), getting his own cereal (even though he can't lift the jug of milk), or driving a car (even though he can't see over the steering wheel or reach the pedals.)

There's a delicate balance between "I did it!" and "Don't do that!"

One of the places where that balance manifests itself is on the stairs. The first time a child slides down the stairs by himself, parents are torn between fear and pride. Later, the decision of when it is safe enough for him to go down the stairs while standing is one of the most difficult to make. No one wants their child to fall down the stairs, but they've got to learn to navigate them eventually.

So, I'm left with the quandary of when to do things for him and when to let him do things for himself.  I want him to be independent, but I also don't want him to get hurt. (Sometimes this whole "parenting" thing isn't as easy as they make it look on tv.)

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