Try as you might to prevent it, all toddlers get hurt. They don't necessarily understand the concept of gravity, they're painfully fearless, and they’re pint-sized scientists, (minus a solid understanding of cause and effect). So it's our job, as parents, to make sure they stay relatively safe and away from harm. There are, however, times when you should let your toddlers hurt themselves, even though it goes against every parenting bone in your body. After all, we can't protect our children from everything, and when we try to we run the risk of robbing them from a necessary, and even beneficial, experience.
I grew up with two overly-cautious parents. Helicopter parents, if you will. My mother was especially protective. In fact, I can tell you exactly how many badly-skinned knees I got growing up. Two. I never learned to ride a bike, roller skate, skateboard, or slide down a banister. I was never really allowed to get into any potential trouble, so I grew up more anxious about the possibility of danger rather than experiencing any myself. And sure, it’s cool that I never broke a bone until I turned 16, but I hate that my childhood was so sheltered.
As a mother to a toddler, I’m trying to walk the line between being safety-minded and allowing my son to be adventurous. With that in mind, I give you a list of times when I think we should all allow our toddlers to potentially hurt themselves. Of course, these moments exclude extremely dangerous situations (your child will never benefit from running in a busy parking lot, no matter how many times they fight you when you hold their hand) but when you know the damage will be minimal, sometimes a tiny bump or bruise can be a necessary lesson in disguise.
When You Warned Them But They Wouldn't Listen
You warn you kid not to do something, because they might get hurt, but they do it anyway. For example, I tell my son not to slap the table so hard because I know it will hurt his fingers. But then he does it anyway. After a while, I might give up telling him to stop. Eventually, he'll learn.
When They’re Doing Something They Already Know They Shouldn’t Be Doing
My toddler knows he’s not supposed to jump from the couch to the recliner. He knows this. He especially knows that his father hates it when he does it. Still, he will continue to try to jump from the couch to the recliner when we’re not looking. Eventually, he might fall between the cracks (don’t worry, it’s just onto the carpet). At this point, I'm hoping gravity can teach him what I can't.
When It Won’t Hurt Too Bad
It's important to asses the amount of pain your kid will be in if you let them "learn" on their own. I don't think anyone really benefits from a trip to the hospital. So long as your child won’t get seriously injured, why even bother trying to prevent them from what is essentially a learning experience?
When They’re Just Having Too Much Fun
I know my son shouldn’t jump on the bed. In fact, there’s a song about monkeys that warns us about its dangers. When he’s having a blast and being careful, though, I let him continue. And if he bumps his head, well, at least he has some fun memories to look back on.
When It Helps Them Learn A New Skill
If my son is trying to learn something, like how to carefully close the drawers, I usually let him go for it. (Yes, even when I’m cringing because he’s about to bash his tiny fingers.) These days, he’s good about keeping his fingers out of the drawer, and I think I know the reason why.
When They’re Trying To Be Brave
My boy is not the world’s bravest kid, I will admit. He’s probably inherited some of his mother’s anxiety, but sometimes he makes a conscious effort to be brave. So if he’s doing something brave where he might get hurt, but it’s worth it and it won’t hurt too much, I allow it.
When They’re Trying To Show Off
Now, if my kid is trying to simply be a show off (especially if he’s doing something he really shouldn’t be, or something he’s been warned against), I don’t even look. Chances are he’s going to get hurt, and I hate to say, “I told you so.” Yeah, let the show offs get hurt a little. It’ll build character. Promise.
When It Teaches Them To Be More Independent
If my son needs to wander a bit more than I like at the playground, but I can still keep tabs on him, I allow it. It’s hard to let him walk up the steps and near the slide on his own because I’m terrified he’ll fall. But I do my best to suppress the urge to always be an in ch behind him, because I want him to gain confidence and independence.
The hardest part of parenting is letting go and giving child some room to grow and get hurt and learn, but that's the best gift I could ever give my child, too. He deserves a mother who will hold space for him to become unapologetically himself.