Natural Parenting: Trusting your child
by Ela Forest
It is natural to have fear for our children’s well-being, but there is no reason not to trust children to know their own limits. Everybody knows their limits much better than those around them.
I know exactly how high I can jump, to what shelf I can reach or how big a hammer I can handle, and I don’t put myself in danger. The same goes for children, if we let them.
Learning from the developing nations:
Children in developing nations are usually given tools to help in family chores. Throughout rural Asia I saw small children, even as young as three-years-old, carrying a machete around with them, and participating with their older siblings in chopping bamboo.
Many times when these children observe their elders in an activity, they want to do it too. The children are allowed to watch or to participate in the work as they feel like, and there is never any fear that they might cut themselves on sharp tools.
Self confidence through trust:
Whereas in the west, when a toddler sees her caregiver working around the house and she wants to join in, fearful caregivers often respond by saying, “No, you’re too little, you can’t use a knife,” or “You can’t stir the pot, you’ll burn yourself.” This can gradually undermine the child’s self-confidence and instil fear.
Children who constantly hear the mistrust of “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous!” won’t easily learn how to judge their own limits or how to trust in their own abilities.
So many times I’ve witnessed a child happily climbing up stairs and then the mother rushes over shouting, “Get down from there! You’ll fall!” Sometimes the child readily obliges by falling.
Children whose parents show complete confidence in their children’s abilities will in turn have confidence in their own abilities. They rarely fall, and when they do, they pick themselves up, and start again.
Letting children find their own limits:
I have always let my daughter, Sequoia, find her own limits, even when it means swallowing my fear as she climbs high in the playground. When she takes a knife to help me cut vegetables, I know that she understands that the knife can be sharp. In fact, though Sequoia uses knives almost every day, she has never cut herself, while I manage to cut myself all the time!
It’s okay to remind children to look out for themselves, that the pot is hot, that they need to hold on tight, to stop and look both ways, but it’s important to let them be responsible for themselves. Children who are allowed to find their own limits will know their limits, and they always ask for help when they find themselves reaching those limits.
Teaching boundaries without fear tactics:
Of course children need to have limits and clear boundaries set for them, such as “We don’t run on the road” and “We only cross when the light is green,” but there is no need to teach children these boundaries by using fear tactics.
The three-year-old of one of my clients was told by a well-meaning grandmother that he must always hold hands on the street “or else all the big cars would run him over.”
Overnight he changed from being a confident boy, who knew the “road rules” and was happy to hold his caregiver’s hand when crossing the road into a fearful wreck.
He became afraid of walking outside, even on the footpath. Every time a car passed, he would scream in terror, break away from his caregiver and run blindly, often falling over and hurting himself, and he would then explain that he got his bruises and scrapes from “the big cars that ran me over.”
Responding to falls:
Likewise, there are parents who, when the child falls or bumps herself, rush over crying, “Oh you poor baby, you hurt yourself, let me pick you up!” The child quickly learns to respond accordingly; by being hurt, by crying. Parents often forget to wait a second to see if the child is actually hurt before making a big fuss, and more often than not, children aren’t injured at all in most little falls and tumbles – they pick themselves right up and go on playing.
A caregiver who doesn’t react loudly to every little fall, bruise and bump will actually encourage a child who has fallen down not to cry. And if a child should cry, it is a natural signal of genuine pain or shock and usually all they need is a little comfort and a kiss better.
Letting the child lead:
It is very important to react only to the child’s signals and not to our own fearful responses. It’s easy to know what a child needs because they will let their caregivers know, even if the child isn’t yet talking.
If a child needs a ‘kiss better’ they will whimper and hold out the injured hand or knee, and if she really needs comfort, she will cry. The best way to help a child who is genuinely hurt, or in need of comfort is to hold the child and let her cry. Let her know that you understand that she feels pain, and that it’s okay for her to feel that.
Telling a child, “Stop crying, it doesn’t hurt, it’s just a little bump,” contradicts the child’s feelings, and makes it difficult for children to learn to deal with their feelings. Just follow the child’s natural signals with love and trust them when they show that they do or don’t need help.© 2011 An Unschooling Life