Stop telling your children they are clumsy!

We go to parks a lot. My son goes to a baseball group that the homeschool group has once a week, and he also started running track at a nearby town. So we are around other kids a good bit.

My son is rather adventurous. He likes to climb in particular, and then jump down (if possible) from the places that he has climbed on. I think climbing and jumping are good, healthy processes for children (adults too!), so I give him a free rein. I trust that he will push himself to the limit of his abilities and no further.

His exploits always attract attention from other kids that want to do it to. Invariably they are shot down by their parents before they get one foot off the ground, and the most popular excuse they give to their children (when they inevitably ask why not?) is that, “you aren’t as coordinated as him.” “You are too clumsy.” “You’d fall and break your head open.” And other variations upon that theme.

And it makes me angry. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids. There was an incident last week at baseball where a kid about 6-7 years old climbed onto the bench and stood on it. His parents converged upon him yelling at him to “get down from there!” Is it any wonder there are so many fat kids in this country??

Meanwhile, Caleb was climbing over the seven foot high chain link fence. I was a little nervous, as there was concrete under the fence. He had his Soft Star Shoes on at the time, so it was easy for him to stick his toes in the fence. He went up pretty fast, but over the other side very slowly and carefully.

The other main reason people restrict the activity of their children is because they feel it is not socially acceptable.

At track the day after the baseball incident, we got there a little early, and everyone was sitting on the bleachers in the hot sun not doing anything. Caleb and I hopped on the track and had some races.

Then he saw his friend over by the fence that goes around the track and ran over to say hi. They were standing there saying hi, and Caleb started showing the kid how he learned how to climb over the fence. The fence was about 4.5 feet high and it was on soft grass. The other kid wanted to try to, and he climbed over once after a few failed attempts.

Then he said something to his mom (who was right next to him looking at her smart phone), and she noticed that he was climbing the fence. She came down on him HARD. Told him he wasn’t permitted to climb the fence and shot down any attempt of his to ask why, and then yanked him away from the fence by the arm.

They weren’t hurting anything by climbing over this little fence. There was an open gate right next to it, so they weren’t breaking in or anything, but the idea of climbing over a fence was unacceptable to this boy’s mother. By running on the track before practice, we weren’t out of line or anything, it’s a public track, and no one had said the kids had to sit on the bleachers, but Caleb was the only kid allowed to go run around and play.

Parents are afraid to be different. Afraid to stick out. They are also afraid of everything else. Everything is too dangerous for most of the parents I come in contact with. Generally they tell Caleb, well it’s alright for you, but my child is too clumsy, she’ll get hurt. And it’s not true. Kids that are allowed to take risks get hurt way less than you would think.

This article talks about the need for “risky” play in child development. This need starts from when they are first learning how to crawl. Caleb was climbing things well before he could walk. In the beginning, I stuck close to him in case of falls, but I bit my tongue when it came to the endless parental litany of “be careful,” “that’s too dangerous,” “too high,” “be careful, be careful,” “you are going to fall,” “you are going to get hurt.” I was spotting him to sooth my anxieties, not because he was not capable of climbing safely.

The one thing I really loved about the book, The Continuum Concept, was the idea that children are capable. That they can self regulate the risks that they take. That they don’t need to be managed all the time. That parents create accidents by telling their children (over and over) that they ARE going to be injured by doing what they want to do, or by forbidding what they want to do which pushes kids to be reckless and going further than they would otherwise to prove themselves.

Kids that are allowed to take risks get hurt sometimes. They get hurt. They cry. And then they get back to business. Keeping kids indoors doesn’t eliminate risks. In the article about risk taking, it states, “Last year, almost three times as many children were admitted to hospital after falling out of bed as those who had fallen from a tree.” Caleb’s worst accident to date was when he tripped over a step at the bookstore and slammed his head into the wall. He had a lump the size of a shooter marble on his forehead.

Please let your kids be free and play. I don’t remember who said it, but some said, “better for them to break an arm falling out of a tree, than to have a broken spirit from not being allowed to climb one.” Or something like that.

Your kids are more coordinated than you give them credit for. If you are afraid they will fall, put down your smart phone and spot them. After spotting them (unobtrusively please) for months without a fall, maybe you’ll gain a bit of respect for their abilities and start trusting them.



5 thoughts on “Stop telling your children they are clumsy!

  1. This is such an important message Cheryl! Our job as parents is to help our children learn to navigate the world; but they are the captains of their ship, not us. We don’t rule them. We guide gently and give them the tools to make the right decisions. And the tone we use, the words we choose to give them those tools – becomes their inner monologue. Don’t we want that monologue to say I can do it! I did it! instead of I’m clumsy?

  2. This takes me back to the days when my own children, wearing their plastic grocery bag “parachutes”, would leap from various heights while calmly assuring me, “I’m not gonna break my legs, I’m not gonna break my legs.” They knew that I was afraid for them, and they cared enough to reassure me. I think things like that strengthened our relationship, because they knew that I was trusting them, and I knew that they were sensitive to my motherly protective feelings. Children need to know that they own themselves, they may have some people that really love them to help them along, but they are their own. I think mothers are afraid if they put that in to practice that their children would go berserk, but I have not found that to be the case. My six now span young teen through adult, and so far I have never had the “difficult” or “rebellious” teen everyone is afraid of.

  3. SO true and very relevant for this day and age. Parents are too quick to help their children and shelter them from being hurt. It’s all with the best of intentions but it can stop them from gaining such valuable lessons (self confidence, risk assessment, handling defeat, pride, etc).

    Children need to climb, they have to jump, they have to get it wrong sometimes. So many parents don’t let their children ‘fail’, they don’t let them figure things out for themselves.. which is why (I believe) so many young adults have this sense of entitlement and want to be spoonfed information and help.

    I have had friends not let their babies crawl on grass because they could be bitten by ants (we’re in Australia where there are some nasty ants!)… I’m all for guiding your child through the sometimes scary aspects of life, but hey – check there’s no ant nest near by and let them explore. They’re natural little explorers learning about the world and they can hardly do so within the restricted limits some parents impose on them.

    Great post and lovely blog šŸ™‚

    • I remember when we were living in the van and working at a farm in Florida. The ants were ferocious! Caleb learned (and I learned!!) very quickly to stay well clear of them, and to look before you kneeled down anywhere. Thanks for your insight!

  4. This: “The other main reason people restrict the activity of their children is because they feel it is not socially acceptable.” is the big one IMO!!! Blatantly obviously, especially when examples like the mother on her smart phone was paying no attention to her son climbing, until he brought her attention elsewhere, and then she flipped and tore him away! If she was *truly* concerned for his safety, her face would not be consumed in a digital device, and she would be actively involved in his play! I think it’s mostly a subconscious thing, because many people feel a lot of judgement from others (ice cold looks, smart comments/remarks, whispers, etc) if their children are allowed to be…. well…… children! I, too, have been guilty of this, and to be 100% honest, it wasn’t even subconscious… I just thought it was unacceptable for my 9 year old to act like a child in most public settings. Now, that’s not to say that I think him climbing the pews in church like a rabid monkey, but thankfully HE understands that church is different than say a park or even a grocery store (more casual settings)… However, I used to ask him NOT to run in the grocery store, or play with the giant ball rack they have set up (which conveniently resembles a giant basketball net, without the hoop), or run his matchbox cars all over the shelves… But upon further study into the unschooling/radical unschooling lifestyle, and just *why* we should trust our children more, and *why* we place such arbitrary rules and restrictions on our kids, I started to lighten up. Guess what happened? My son had fun, he actually HELPED me shop eagerly without complaint, we had a great night, I was WAY less stressed out than I normally am upon leaving the grocery store, and he actually did play ball and raced from one end of the cash stand to the other (with several cashiers and a bagger cheering him on!) and nobody got hurt, there was just a lighter and happier atmosphere, and definitely a happier kid!

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