Finding the line: Ensure Safety | Allow Experimentation

Guest Post from Nicole from Gateway Therapies

Is that such a good idea?

I was recently watching my girls, aged 3 and 4, play in a designated area at the local shopping centre. On an elevated patch, slightly away from the road and the thoroughfare of the restaurants, this area had two pieces of play equipment. One was a rocking thing, and the other a roundabout type thing that could be pushed around or sat on. My girls were joined by their 3 year old cousin, and I sat with my mother and sister at a table nearby. My sister and I reminisced about playgrounds we visited as a child, and remembered one particular piece of equipment that spun around, like the one in front of us. What suddenly dawned on me, was the stark difference between their design. The one our kids were using, was padded and low to the ground. All mechanisms were concealed to avoid trapping little fingers, and the ground beneath was rubber. Safe. Crazy safe. The one my sisters and I frequented on the other hand, was a death trap. Metal bars formed the ‘seat’. There were massive gaps between the bars and the mechanisms were exposed. It was reasonably high off the ground, largely due to the fact that a gully had worn beneath the equipment, from many pairs of feet dragging along while their bodies whirled around. The ground was pure dirt. And rocks. And sticks. Pointy sharp rocks and sticks. I remember there were falls, and cuts and scrapes, possibly resulting in tears shed and bandaid shortages, but gosh it was fun!


So I sat with my family watching the children, and had another sudden thought. Our kids are so protected these days! And in many ways this is a good thing. I am sure there are stats on how there has been a massive reduction in playground injuries etc, but what are our kids learning (or not learning) by being constantly bubble wrapped? How are they to learn good judgment, if not allowed to judge situations for themselves?

I was reading a discussion thread recently on Be a Fun Mum’s Facebook page on playing with your food, and there was some debate about this topic.  The post had been a terrific idea for sensory play – coloured yoghurt to ‘paint’ with. Paint that could be eaten and smeared! Messy, fun. Well-meaning commenters wondered if this type of activity would confuse kids, encourage them to play with their food, and promote bad table manners. I feel that once again, these perceptions – this inability to give our children the benefit of the doubt – could have an impact on their ability to develop good judgment. I also fear that our children are missing out on amazing opportunities to explore and experience their world. Are we desensitizing them?

We need to give our kids the benefit of the doubt. Often they understand more than we think. We need to let them learn from their experiences. Within reason of course. But eventually you learn that standing up in the middle of a thing that spins really, really fast so much that you lose your balance and go crashing down onto thick metal bars, is a bad idea. And you learn that smearing coloured yoghurt on your highchair tray is fun, and okay at home if given the ‘go ahead’, but when you do that with your pumpkin soup at Sizzler, Mum gets really cross and so you probably shouldn’t do that there.

Some kids struggle with learning to ‘judge’, and that can be because they just haven’t developed that skill yet, or it may be a symptom of a developmental delay. Laying down the rules visually and verbally, and ensuring kids are aware of your expectations and consequences, can help.

One final word. Judgment is a skill that develops over time. Kids of all ages will continue to make bad decisions, misjudge, and take risks. As parents, it’s up to us to be informed, and choose when to step in, or step back. It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing!

How do find the balance between ensuring your children’s safety and allowing them the room to experiment?

playing in the mud 


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  • Reply
    Kelly Be A Fun Mum
    May 4, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Nicole, I always have a battle with myself about this. As a mum, I’m a Risk Managment Officer, and everywhere I go, I see ALL the possible danger around. This is a good thing, but it can also be a challenge because I DO want to give my kids the space to learn and grow….as I did when I was young. For me it comes down to taking a step back sometimes, not projecting my anxiety on my kids, and then making the judgement call myself for the situation I’m in…and I guess I learned this judgement from my experience and what I know of my kids and their abilities. I’ve come round in a circle, haven’t I?

  • Reply
    Kelly Be A Fun Mum
    May 4, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Oh, and that spin thing in the pic (above) was at a park at Warwick that we LOVED. We loved it because it had all this cool old fashioned equipment. But last time we went it was all gone. I can totally see how it is dangerous but the kids and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that it was gone.

  • Reply
    May 4, 2012 at 7:52 am

    What a great topic of discussion!. I as a mum of 3, with a FIFO husband, i am confronted with this daily. I want my kids to experience as much as possible and as they get older it seems to be an even greater challenge. My heart tends to lean in the direction of freedom, however, the logistis of the daily must dos just sometimes make it impossible. I now tend to leave the more challenging stuff for when my husband is around. I would love them to cycle to school and go surfing much more, and experience these type of activities as parties of a normal developmental process,, but ive had to compromise with myself by doing what I can safely manage with them. Its not enough for me but i guess that’s my issue. So frustration for them as well as for me Im afraid.

  • Reply
    May 4, 2012 at 7:58 am

    What a great post. What you have said is so true. Its difficult to stand back sometimes and let kids discover stuff for themselves. But they need to learn too.

  • Reply
    The Imperfect Housewife
    May 4, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Great post… life is about getting dirty and jumping in puddles. Going to try the coloured yoghurt!

  • Reply
    May 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    So agree!!!
    Kids learn so much by playing, and whilst safety is important (like fenced pools!), it is important to let kids fall down to learn that it hurts!
    One little 2 year old boy I know is particularly reckless when he plays, partly because his parents have never let him get hurt! Now he is much bigger, and capable of climbing much higher!, but still doesnt have those judgement skills that my kids had at the same age.

  • Reply
    May 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    So loved your article im a mum of three children and the other week my partner took the three kids to the park and because it had been raining there was huge puddles and they all came back muddy and wet but had so much fun. My partner took a video of them jumping in puddles and getting back into nature. I also love the climbing tree at scarborough in brisbane north such a great area for children to practice their climbing.

  • Reply
    Nicole Grant
    May 8, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for all your comments. It’s been particularly interesting hearing everyone’s own experiences from their childhood, and how these experiences have shaped their opinion on this issue today.

  • Reply
    May 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Found you through Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/pin/177892254001449336/). I totally agree–kids need to be given the benefit of the doubt, and allowed to find their way through their own experiences. Not saying they should jump off the top of the garage roof, but within reason, they should learn through what they do.

  • Reply
    Disney and Pixar are raising my kids!
    June 17, 2014 at 11:50 am

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