When I was about four, my reception teacher took me to the park with my classmates. I had a nifty little friend who was a monkey bar pro and could swing, just like a monkey, from bar to bar – legs dangling high above the floor. But I was a chubby child and couldn’t hold my own weight.
The teacher suggested I give the monkey bars a go. No thanks, I said, I don’t want to. Go on, she said, just give it a go. No, I really don’t want to – I said. She made me climb up onto the platform and reach out for the bar above my head. I held on to the first pole with both hands, let my feet slide off the podium, released one hand and attempted to swing my body weight so that the momentum would allow me to stretch out and reach the second pole. Alas – I didn’t make it. I dropped heavily onto the bark-laden playground floor, flat on my back.
The teacher must have been worried. She sent some girls off to get help – and they came back with two massive teddy bears (about as big as I was at the time: one pink, one blue). There was talk of an ambulance. They thought I’d broken my back.
I wound up in a pushchair – red and blue stripes, being pushed back to my primary school – and was taken to the head teacher’s office. This was a real treat, as I loved the head teacher. She gave me bourbon biscuits and a cup of raspberry tea. It was delicious.
It’s important to encourage children to play and exercise and try new things but when it comes to something potentially dangerous – let them decide for themselves. If they want to climb trees, swing on monkey bars, play leapfrog etc – that’s fine. If they don’t; that should be fine too. Sometimes kids know their own limits.
Imagine being told in a yoga class that you should do a headstand. But I don’t want to, you tell the teacher. Oh go on, don’t be a wimp – give it a go! She replies. You go into a headstand, crick your neck, fall awkwardly and feel angry with the teacher for pressurising you into doing something you didn’t feel prepared for. That would never happen because we respect adults’ ability to assess whether something feels safe or not.
This article (click here) discusses different parenting methods around the world. One important message is that children are often able to assess danger for themselves. So exposing them to sharp objects, fire, tree-climbing etc is ok, to some extent. But respect their decision if they choose not to explore these potentially hazardous activities.
And so on to the moral of this post. If you’ve got a podgy child and she’s scared of monkey bars, let her go down the slide instead. Or on the swings. Or just sit on the bark, watching everyone else. Because when she’s ready she’ll give it a go. Although she, like me, might never quite master it. Perhaps her talent lies elsewhere.