Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fear of heights

By the standards of my childhood haunts, the playground at the end of our block is as safe as they come. Age-appropriate structures, parents prowling every perimeter, many helping their children down the tall slide by offering their laps as sleds.

The lone, tall monkey bars, have gone. Replaced by lower, multi-tiered play areas.

Safety factors first.

social climber

I remember taking this picture and holding my breath as Ittybit climbed the chain ladder of the play station, for that's what a was -- a collection of slides and hanging bars that defied labels or definition. A tiny jungle gym for a marshmallow landscape.

Eighteen months old, still so baby-like, and there she was climbing to the grated platform, five feet off the ground, on her way to the circular slide.

I'd overheard so many parents telling their kids to get down, that they were too young, that it wasn't safe. So many eyes in my direction wondering where I'd gotten my parenting skills, no doubt from a Five & Dime that had gone bust?

But I had to fight my inner (paranoid) parent to let her.

So it was with interest that I read this about some emerging research on the benefits of risk on development.

Some of the points I found most interesting was that "safer playgrounds" weren't actually safer for play. The logic being the perception of safety actually made risk-taking seem less risky, and, therefore, injury just as likely.

Another point was that while many parents and some researchers expected childhood falls from high places to produce later psychological effects, such as phobias, the reverse was more true: Children who had engaged in the exploration of heights and endured childhood falls had fewer instances of phobias.

I suppose the obvious question for me is this: How do we, as parents, get over our own fears of emergency room visits?


Norby said...

I think it's worth saving the extreme fear/phobia moments as a parent for the times when it really matters. Like life and death situations.

For instance, crossing a busy street, standing on the edge of the grand canyon (well, that one's probably less dangerous than a lot of streets) or where there's a good chance of a permanent life-altering injury. That said, I'm probably more likely to assume that my kids can handle themselves then my wife, which can lead to some interesting moments.


amelia said...

I am the worst when it comes to accident phobia. I can envision my children's pretend accidents all the way to their horrible, bloody heartbreaking ends, and I do, ALL THE TIME. It sickens me, truly. I have the most nightmarish images flash through my head, and I live them in my whole body, as if they were really happening.

So what do I do? How do I get over the fears? By doing exactly what you did. Just watch the thoughts, and let them go. Hold my breath, but don't let the thoughts change what I do with my children, or what I let them do. Sure, I talk to my kids about safety, just as parents have always done. I supervise and help them get the skills they need to play safely - to climb higher, jump farther, balance better. I try not to let my panic show through. (Although I admit, I did show my son a picture of a kid impaled by a piece of bamboo he was using as a pretend ninja sword this morning - simply to emphasize why we ask that he not run around with sticks in his hand - but other than that, we have to let them play.) And each time my children balance better, climb higher or jump farther, it does get easier - I find I have more faith in their abilities, and so I fear less.

The other thing that helps me is that I constantly remind myself that, for the most part, children don't die from accidents that happen while they are playing - they might break bones, they might bleed, but they generally do not become irreparably harmed. I think of all the times I fell from the monkey bars, or the numerous concussions my wife suffered... we generally make it through childhood.

toyfoto said...

Now that the kids are a little older, I'm more worried about our own backyard (the pool) than the playground, to tell you the truth.

But I do agree, the more experience they get, the more skills they learn, the more they learn to decide for themselves what feels safe and what doesn't.