I was watching my husband play with Hailey today. He picked her up, stood her on the window sill (about 3 feet off the ground), and let go. He sat just beneath ready to catch her if she fell (or jumped).
There she stood teetering on the ledge, stuffed bear in hand. Then she jumped. Into Daddy’s arms she went. Once she was safely on the ground she immediately asked to do it again.
We call Hailey our little adrenaline junkie. She loves to go higher, faster…the more extreme the better. She will even start chuckling if we almost drop her. It’s a thrill.
One of her most recent toys is a Bosu. If you’re confused and thinking that a Bosu is a piece of exercise equipment you’d be correct. We bought Hailey an unstable apparatus to stand on. She loves being off balance. It’s the perfect toy for her.
Her balance is phenomenal and getting increasingly better as she attempts braver maneuvers.
We live slightly dangerously in our household compared to many other families I talk to.
Our goal is to push boundaries. We want to raise a confident child. A child with excellent judgement and fantastic decision-making capabilities. We want her to trust her instincts and be able to identify risk on her own.
So we let her live a bit dangerously. We let her play on the edge of her capabilities. This is how to raise a confident child. Or at least, that’s our belief.
Hailey sits on the counter while we make dinner. We can walk away from her, grabbing ingredients out of the fridge or cupboards without worrying about her falling.
Yesterday, I even went outside to put something in the garbage at the curb while Hailey sat on the counter next to the frying pan that was cooking our eggs.
I have come to trust her.
We don’t have gates on our stairs and she knows to stop at the top.
Yesterday, she wanted to go down the stairs forward facing and upright, just like an adult. I sat a few steps down from the top and encouraged her to give it a try on her own.
She wanted me to offer her a hand. She didn’t want to do it alone. She was afraid.
I politely refused and suggested she grab the railing with both hands instead. She kept grabbing the railing and starting to step down before losing her courage and standing right back up. Again, she’d ask for my hand.
As I was encouraging her to try on her own, it crossed my mind that I may regret it later once she starts going down the stairs without me close by.
As I reflected on these thoughts I realized that the only reason I shouldn’t encourage her is because I’m scared. I’m scared for her safety. I’m scared I’ll have to pay extra attention to her. I’m scared she might take a header down the stairs when I’m getting dressed or otherwise occupied.
My conclusion: preventing her from trying is really for my benefit alone.
Some of you may disagree. You may say wanting your baby to be safe is not selfish. It’s being a good parent.
I want Hailey to be safe. But my approach is different. I believe that teaching her how to do something safely is far better than preventing her from trying altogether. After all, she has to learn eventually.
I want her to learn how to go down the stairs safely by herself. I don’t want her to think she’s not capable and that I don’t trust her abilities.
Will she fall? Maybe. I will occasionally fall down the stairs so I don’t believe the potential for not falling will ever be zero. Do I want her to fall? No.
Is she more likely to fall as a small child than an adult? Probably. That’s why I want her to learn how to do it safely. That’s why I’m there to help her. That’s why I’m spending a lot of time trying to teach her how to do it safely.
I want her to know how to sit on a counter and know that she needs to be cautious because she’s high up.
I want her to have good judgement. I want her to be able to assess her skills and capability on her own rather than relying on me to tell her what she is and isn’t capable of. I want her to be confident in her abilities and to trust her judgement. I’m not always going to be there hovering around her.
For me, this is all about assessing risk. There is risk with everything we do, no matter how safe. The trick is to assess where your threshold is.
The question I like to ask myself, especially related to risk: Is it possible? Always. Is it probable?
If Hailey’s sitting on the counter and I want to walk away. Is it possible that she will fall? Yes. Is it probable? Yes, if she’s fidgeting and restless so I don’t leave her or I put her on the floor. No, if she’s sitting calmly so I move about the kitchen without worry.
It’s more work for me right now because of the way we’re choosing to raise Hailey. But I’m hoping it’ll be less work down the road when we have a confident daughter who is comfortable making her own decisions.
By doing it this way, Hailey knows we trust her judgement. She’s gaining confidence in her decision making. She will still look to us for help when she’s not sure.
And right now, we’re having lots of fun living life on the edge!