Are We Childproofing Too Much? Healthy Risks for Proper Development

You want to make sure your baby thrives at home. But are you keeping them safe from harm, or harming their learning? We all know about the pitfalls of helicopter parenting, hovering too close and creating hyper-sensitive kids. But would you ever think that childproofing your house might also contribute to the problem?

Childproofing is a kind of rite-of-passage to celebrate that your baby has learned to crawl, but it doesn’t have to be anxiety-ridden, over-protective, or extreme. The less things your child has to interact with, the less they learn (about their world) and the less they develop physically (motor skills) as well as cognitively (visual perception). By limiting their exposure to slightly “dangerous” tools, you may be safeguarding their health, but putting their development at risk.

Your House Is the First “Tool Learning” Site

A Utah State University anthropologist, Dr. David F. Lacey, researched other cultures and how they initiate their children into tool use. Whereas we overprotect and keep sharp, pointy objects out of a child’s reach, other cultures beg to differ. In his textbook-thick book, The Anthropology of ChildhoodLacey shows the benefits of allowing children to explore their world from an early age.

Dr. Lacey came to the conclusion that “children were welcomed at tool-making sites, if they could avoid disrupting the work of others.” In other words, adults allowed children into their work spaces, and gave them tools and materials to practice with. Under a casual but watchful eye, children learn from their elders how to handle the tools of life, and were ready to tackle a variety of activities earlier.

In our world, that doesn’t just mean handing over the iPad and cellphone (your adult tools) – if fact, skip those and go for the more traditional ones like pens and pencils, kitchen tools, and even some building ones (always under a watchful eye of course!).

It’s Gonna Be Messy

Children need to learn to use the tools of their culture, and will be messy doing it. The house is the child’s first culture and there is SO much to master there. Grabbing, mouthing, waving things around, splashing them, or simply banging things are all ways children learn about tools.

We want our kids to learn to use the tools we enjoy: Pots and pans, paintbrushes, pens and pencils, wrenches, hammers, etc. They will need more than computers in their future to have a fulfilling life, so be sure to let them explore the variety of things on offer. What about lawnmowers and sewing machines? And before gasping at the suggestion, remember how previous generations managed to grow up with all of their limbs despite helping in the kitchen, in the garden, or on the farm.

Of course, no one suggests handing over a nail gun to a baby, but a growing number of parents are forbidding some of the more innocuous tools as well. Start simple. Confidence in handling tools begins in the same place for everyone...with spoons. It’ll be a predictable mess, but let your child learn to use a spoon by themselves. As the mastery increases, so can the exposure.

Some Places Are Off-Limits

Of course there are some areas of the house that must be child-proofed. All the places you store cleaning materials, including soap and detergent, are strictly off-limits for your little “tool learner”. These cupboards will be all the more intriguing to baby, of course, but a “no” is in order. Cupboards with cleaning materials are the best place for plastic baby proofing locks.

Electric outlet plug covers are another classic baby-proofing item that you can’t call “helicopter parenting” material. Just make sure they stay in good and tight so little fingers can’t pry them off. Even expensive ones have been known to fail in that way.

But how much babyproofing is enough? The answer is really simple – do as little as makes you feel most comfortable – and keep an eye on the rest. You may know theoretically that kids usually don’t fall in the toilet, but the thought just won’t go away. So get a toilet lock. It’s okay to be sensitive to your own real fears, but don’t take them too far.

Let Them Take Risks Sometimes

Back to the idea of children needing to learn the tools of their world, even when the tools are somewhat risky. Another recent study– this one lead by Mariana Brussoni, assistant professor of Public Health and Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia–determined that children need a good deal of free, self-directed play in order to develop confidence, courage, and problem-solving skills.

“Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

The study found that there are absolutely no adverse effects to children having adventurous– even risky– play. Of course, we’re talking about childproofing for toddlers here, but the study gives us some good hints at how we can begin to instill a sense of acceptable risk in our kids. So do let them get into your cupboards with some pots and pans (just not the one with cleaning products!). A little crawler feels an immeasurable sense of adventure and power in exploration.

You Are the First and Best Teacher

As soon as crawling begins and your baby is suddenly mobile, start thinking about the learning opportunities. Of course it’s a little scary, but think of this developmental phase as the time to teach safe risk-taking and an appreciation for curiosity. Let her open some kitchen cupboards and pull out the containers. You can add some wooden spoons to the mix and her imagination will be sparked. You are the first one in her life who says, “What a good idea!”, even when it makes a mess you’ll have to take care of later.

The Takeaway

Parents are moving away from overanxious protection of children. They are gaining more research-based knowledge of the relationship between sometimes-risky, self-directed (read: FUN) play, and social and intellectual health. We now know that adventure, a little risk, and curiosity help the developing brain to grow well. We may have been making our kids too safe to succeed… Ending excessive childproofing is a good place to turn the tide.

What’s your family’s attitude toward childproofing, and how far will you go?

Tags : home   safety   development   

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