ControverSunday: Protection vs. Acceptable Risk

by Ginger on September 13, 2010

in Mom Thoughts

It’s the return of ControverSunday–now with more Tuesday than ever. If you’re new around here, ControverSunday is a weekly(except when not) meme where a bunch of us discuss a our views on a variety of controversial topics. If you’re interested in participating, join on in–we’re always open to new folks, and you don’t have to post on Sunday (obviously!).


This week on ControverSunday, the topic up for discussion is Protection vs. Acceptable Risk. To quote our new hostess, Kathleen @ AMoment2Think:

“To what extent should we work to protect our children from harms/challenges/failure etc and to what extent should we take a step back and let them learn on their own? Where is the balance between protection and letting children learn on their own?”

This is rather timely, actually. On Monday, when we took Jackson to the pediatricians for his 12 month check up, he was toddling around the room. His toddling is fast and unbalanced, but he goes with gusto wherever he goes. He topples a lot, but it doesn’t seem to faze him, so we let him go for the most part (as if we could contain him anyway. But that’s another issue).

Anyway, we were at the doctor’s office, and he’s bobbling around the room, and toppling over and doing his thing. And EVERY single time he fell or tripped, our ped flinched. Or reached for him. The first time made a little sense, because he was close to the corner of the table. But after that, it started to make me feel a little awkward, because my response was to just watch and let him do his thing. Which is my response MOST of the time.

It doesn’t surprise me in a way. Despite the heart in my throat feeling when he gets too close to a corner and the drop in my stomach when he falls, I think that he needs the room to explore and figure things out on his own. I’ve long thought that about kids–even when I was teaching colorguard, often my approach was to let them try and try on their own without stepping in to fix it for them. I feel strongly that kids need to learn how to fail. They need to make mistakes and fail and learn how to overcome those issues. Now that I’m a parent, it feels more natural to let Jackson try on his own, stepping in when he gets too frustrated or overwhelmed (or when he’s too tired to balance at all). I think it gives him a chance to learn not just how to not fall, but also how to pick himself back up.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare the shit out of me sometimes, or that I’m not going to try and teach him to be safe and use his brain, or that I’ll just let him go do anything and everything he wants (with or without supervision). And that’s not to say that I don’t or won’t sometimes hover. But in general (for now) I personally do veer more toward giving him that freedom rather than standing over him always trying to protect him.


While my gut reaction is to let him do his thing, stepping in only when necessary, I do feel like I have to suppress that feeling a little when we’re around other people, specifically other kids. It’s one thing for me to feel like Jackson can do his own deal when it’s just him, but around other kids, I’m much more likely to hover.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, Jackson is a BIG kid. He’s  double the size of most kids his age. He’s tall, and he’s got heft. He’s almost knocked ME over before when he’s run into me full bore, and I’m many times his weight. It’s not fair to other kids that don’t have his size to let him run “wild”, even if my instinct is to let him go.

Secondly, we’ve had problems with things like biting, hair pulling, & pinching (wow, I sound like a stellar parent right now). He’s also started flailing around when he’s really excited–which, with his  heft, can be quite the impact if he connects with you. I know this about him, and even though he mostly does it with us, I don’t want to run the risk of him hurting another kid right now. So I’m less likely to let him run around on his own with other kids, even though it’s what I’d prefer.

I’d prefer for him to learn how to work things out with other kids without parental intervention. I’d prefer for him to learn those social skills, those coping skills, those negotiating skills on his own. But I don’t feel like I can right now. It’s not about hovering over Jackson for Jackson’s sake, but for other kids–just in case. I’m sure he’ll outgrow some of this as he gets older (and as we are able to really teach No Hitting, No Biting, etc.), but for now, I feel like we have to make that choice for him.

Of course, what I’m really talking about here is in play, and social surroundings, for a toddler. At one, Jackson isn’t anywhere near the point of things like traveling alone, driving, peer pressure, contact sports, etc. We’re talking the acceptable risk of certain environments, of certain types of play, of certain playmates. It’s hard to even contemplate where I’ll stand on the idea of acceptable risk in 4 years, when Jackson is in kindergarten, much less 10 years, when he’s entering high school. Because it’s all about the levels, and age appropriateness, of the risk. Every parent has to make that call of what they are comfortable with, at every age of their child’s life.

So what are your thoughts on Protection vs. Acceptable Risk?

Perpetua September 14, 2010 at 7:08 am

It sounds like you’re doing exactly the right thing re: Jackson’s interaction with smaller kids, even though it kind of sucks that you have to hover when your instinct is the opposite. I’m betting it will get a lot easier for you guys when he’s a little older and can interact with the “big kids.”

Lorry September 14, 2010 at 10:46 am

Great point about having to think of all the other kids too. As the mother of a princess puny pants, I hadn’t really thought of that! We did have to teach her “no hitting” but that was more because her hitting is rude and annoying than because it would actually cause harm to someone else….

Elizabeth September 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I’ve wondered how I’ll handle these things–I’m considerably older than my sister, and watching how my parents did things with her compared to how they were with me has been fascinating. It sounds like you’re doing an amazing job!

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