Yesterday Ava had a rare tumble outside, nothing too bad, but she has two little scabs on her hand today (which she is quite fascinated with).
It got me thinking about how, for a child as physically exuberant as Ava, she has had only a couple of grazes in all her 22 months, and just a handful of bumps. I have no context for this, but she does seem to me to be very physically confident. Perhaps no more so than any other child her age, but it is an observation people often make about her. Whether we are in the pool, the park or a play centre, Ava will usually be the one jumping off things and diving fearlessly into ball pits, with the ‘big kids’.
I have no idea where this comes from although suspect it has much more to do with her own personality, her own innate preferences, than it does anything we have done. But I hope, and believe, that our attitude towards her physical freedom has at least not hindered this confidence. I certainly was not like this as a child, and yet I know why I was not, and I have been determined, bolstered by brilliant books like The Continuum Concept, to allow Ava to trust her instincts as much as possible. That is, not to interfere.
We all have our own limits and boundaries. For some, the idea of not having a stairguard would be atrocious, and yet that was a deliberate decision on our part. We ask Ava not to go up the stairs without us and she doesn’t. Nowadays we don’t mind her walking up and down as long as we are nearby, since she is so confident on them. In fact, beyond plug sockets, we seem to have avoided the whole baby-proofing thing completely.
We want her to play freely, naturally and so we let her jump a lot, climb nearly anything she wants to climb, dive under the water if she so wishes…and so on. Even when it means holding myself back, I try to let her explore her surroundings with the trust and expectation that she, like every other living creature, has been born with an intrinsic set of instincts and understanding about her own abilities.
In TCC, Leidloff talks about how the tribes she studied would never interfere with young babies exploring their surroundings, and yet these tiny babies would never fall down the many holes in their habitat, or get injured in any number of other ways that we might see as not just possible but likely. Young children could use knives succesfully, understanding them to be tools, and seemingly never injuring themselves with them either.
The whole subject fascinates me and fits in nicely with our general parenting approach which is to try and allow Ava to have as much freedom as possible. This means considering her ‘demands’, saying no as little as possible, and letting her discover things without our constant interruption – be it in the form of physical restraint or by narrating absolutely everything to her.
(That last one can be challenging for me, since I am a talker. But I have noticed time and time again that Ava will spend much longer carefully considering something if I let her do it on her own, rather than coming up and exclaiming ‘Oh, look, is that a green leaf? Does that come from that tree over there? And look how big the tree is!’ etc)
Then, I read this article on Facebook today, and it made me smile because this is just how I feel. Except she says it beautifully:
‘I want them to listen to their own gut feelings, and self-regulate- or in other words, stop when they start to feel unsafe. And that’s exactly what they did. Nobody got higher up that tree than they could manage. Nobody hurt themselves getting down. This is something that I’ve read about in books, but it’s also something that’s reinforced over and over again as I watch the children playing on their new playground. If you trust them to self-regulate, and shut up instead of expressing your own fears, they won’t go beyond what they can handle.’
Giving your child the chance to self-regulate is very important to us, as parents, which means never pushing Ava beyond her comfort zone, but also giving her the freedom to act and explore as she so wishes. Yes, we have our own limits, but they are far beyond baby-proofing. For example, although I am in awe of friends who have taught their Littles to use knives with expert care, chopping and slicing and manipulating them with a great understanding of their function, I am not quite there yet.
People often say to me that I am lucky to have such an obedient child who will not do something if I ask her to, but that perhaps if she wasn’t so obedient I may well have to…whataver. Step in more. Put up stairgaurds. Have more boundaries. And that dreadful word. ‘Discipline’ her. Maybe even smack her (Gah!) But I am starting to get a little ticked off at that line of thinking, because it is my line of thinking that the very reason she is so ‘well behaved’ to use another horrible term, is that I have always trusted her and respected her, and tried not to lie to her or fob her off. And I try hard not to have unrealistic expectations of her. (She is nearly two. She needs to climb and jump and make noise. This is good. This is natural. This is not misbehaving.)
It’s a funny thing, too, because on the occasions when she does push the boundaries and I do have to say no, she almost always listens to me, and I hope that this is because she knows there is a reason for this kind of exertion. Yes, maybe I have just been very lucky with this one, and maybe the next one will indeed be a little ‘terror’ who will need all sorts of ghoulish punishments. Except that I don’t believe that for a second, because when I look around at the Mamas and Daddies I know who have the best ‘behaved’ children, and I’m not talking about children who do what they’re told because they are afraid to do otherwise, I see people who treat their children with a great deal of kindness, and trust and respect. Whose children in turn, whilst not being perfect, are much more willing to listen to their parents out of love rather than because they will get put in time-out or worse if they don’t.
And anyway, the next time we have a child, Ava will be on hand to do her sisterly duties, and as good-natured as she is, that little Lady is as stubborn and strong-willed as you get. She won’t take any nonsense from anyone.