Emma’s parents are clearly in charge but they give her opportunities to make her own decisions. They love to introduce her to new things: lambs, flying above her daddy’s head, swings, carrots, croissants and sandy beaches. They are careful to keep the first contact with a new experience brief and pleasant. Should Emma show real signs of distress, they distract her with something else and remove the new experience. They do, however, give her time to figure out what she thinks. A first grimace does not mean distaste or fear.
Emma approaches most new things with enthusiastic caution. At first contact, her face remains solemn as she assesses the taste or the experience. Her expression upon her first taste of potato was comical. She remained serious as she ate most of it but she wasn’t unhappy.
Soon after first contact with a new experience, Emma usually starts to smile. The potato didn’t rate a smile but it wasn’t rejected, either. When Emma becomes comfortable with new activities, she often chuckles, sometimes in anticipation.
The local playground is designed for young children. It has tough rubber flooring, many gentle angles and slopes, steps that are wide and go quite high, different kinds of slides and different challenges for the climbers including big nets. There are lots of physical challenges but some for the imagination as well. The gate opens into a large grassy field that is also toddler friendly. Emma visits it nearly every day and here she has a lot of freedom to determine her own agenda. For the most part, her parents follow her, reserving the right to exercise a veto. The veto is seldom employed because usually they can negotiate a solution as they did with the swing.
Emma knew she wasn’t ready to swing solo but she does like the feeling of independence of being on the swing by herself. She isn’t ready to get on the swing and she doesn’t try but she is happy to sit on the swing with Mum’s help. She gets to feel what it is like to be on a big-girl swing with the independence of holding on and balancing. On the other hand, she is not anxious about falling, as she trusts her mum.
When she does fall in the course of her experiments, Emma rarely cries. She looks up with surprise and the parent in charge usually calmly comments “That was a good bump, wasn’t it?” or “You didn’t see that coming, did you?” and they laugh together. If a bump causes tears, then Emma gets picked up and comforted while her parent casually inspects the bump to see if needs more treatment than a kiss. Eventually, Emma wiggles to get down and goes back to what she was doing.
Letting Emma fall is part of her education in consequences; taking risks can result in a delightful new experience or a bump. She has to assess where the dividing line is. Since her parents don’t intervene unless she is likely to get really hurt, she gets lots of practice in making that assessment.
So Emma often pushes herself to learn new things, but her parents also expose her to new experiences. They support her ventures. They don’t fuss over a bit of dirt or a skinned knee. Emma and her clothes are washable. Emma’s scrapes and bruises heal quickly and are forgotten quickly. Usually Emma is the one who determines the pace at which she learns to do things, although, like most parents, hers can’t resist the temptation to occasionally coax her into trying something. Who hasn’t tried to persuade a baby to take a step?
Wisely, her parents also teach her how to do things important for her own safety, such as getting down from a perch. Theirs is an approach of “if you are going to climb, you need to know how to get down safely.” Her parents taught her to turn around and get down feet first. When she first started climbing, they would have physically put her in the position to climb down. Later, she heard a lot of
“Turn around, Emma. That’s it. Now get down.”
Later comments were:
“That’s not safe, please move… Thank you”
“Remember what happened last time you did that?”
Climbing, with the exception of climbing on cabinets and the computer desk, is not discouraged. Her parents have always spotted Emma’s early climbs, even if she wasn’t aware of it. However, potentially dangerous antics such as crossing the bouncing bridge require a parent holding her hand. Since her parents don’t restrict most adventures, she accedes more readily to having her hand held. Emma practices her balance on the bridge, but safely.
Today Emma climbs steps, kitchen chairs and other furniture with the same confidence as she walks. While her eyes glint with mischief when she is admonished not to do something dangerous, she understands perfectly both the request and that she might get hurt doing it. She might continue once or twice to tease her parent, but she is usually obedient. In this family, the toddler’s growth is a pragmatic and joyous negotiation between her and her parents.
The negotiation between Emma and her parents and their willingness to let her take some risks have brought her to the point where she wants to climb on the baby gym. The task requires concentration, strength, balance, some risk-taking and confidence; she has enough of each.
Currently, the estimate of what goes into Emma’s growth would be roughly 40% nature, 60% environment or what we used to call nurture. Emma was unusually active even before she was born. How would she have developed if her parents had not been active themselves? Would they have responded to her need for physical activity or would she have become a little less active – or would they have met in the middle?
You often hear parents comment that their child sleeps better if they have a walk in the afternoon – or they need some quiet time after their bath and before bed to settle down to sleep. Most parents are pretty good at figuring out what their babies need. Most parents figure it out without thinking too much about it, too, and manage to negotiate something that works both for them and their child. When you think about it, this isn’t really a surprise. Parent and child is the oldest human relationship and they have been working it out for a long time.
- Emma’s Brain: how do you get to Carnegie Hall, part two (sdscaiff.wordpress.com)
- Children’s Academic Success Linked to How Parents Play With Toddlers (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Parenting a Child With ADHD (everydayhealth.com)
- Family Interaction Patterns: Bullying and Victimization in Children (education.com)