What I’m Teaching My Son By Letting Him Fall At The Playground

flickr / Michael Newman
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The following was syndicated from the Daddy Files for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

Will loves the playground. And not just because it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but also because it’s challenging.

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The one by our house has a cool plastic climbing structure that really makes Will work. It starts off vertical with holes throughout for hands and feet, before it twists down horizontally and then back up again before reaching the platform on the other side. It not only forces Will to think about where his hands and feet go, but also whether he wants to traverse the top portion or go underneath.

The result is many attempts that fail spectacularly.

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As you can see in the picture, slips and falls are guaranteed as he learns the best ways to make his way along the structure. When we went yesterday, he fell off close to a dozen times before he finally made it. As you can see, the highest distance he can fall from is roughly 4-feet, and the entire ground is soft mulch that makes for a cushioned landing. So while I offer him plenty of cheerleading and advice when he asks for it, that’s the extent of my involvement. Because as long as you make sure they’re safe (which Will was), I think it’s important for parents to let kids find their own way without babying them.

Today there were a bunch of kids there with their parents. One mother of a boy who looked to be about 2 years old caught my eye, mainly because she couldn’t take her eyes off Will. Each time he fell she winced and looked disapprovingly in my direction. I’m used to that, as overprotective “playground moms” are unfortunately pretty common. But I did not expect what happened next.

We are raising a generation of kids who know nothing about taking risks.

Will tried to go on the left side to climb, got halfway there, and thought twice about his decision. So he attempted to go back to the platform to start over, then slipped but caught himself. The end result was him hanging from the top with one tippy-toe on the platform as he struggled to make it back to where he started. He whimpered a little bit and called out for me, but I told him he was doing great and he could figure out on his own if he stayed calm.

And that’s when “Playground Mom” decided she had enough because she walked briskly over to him and said “You need help sweetie? Give me your hand.”

I was furious but not exactly shocked since I had seen it building to that point for the previous 10 minutes. But I still wasn’t about to let it go without addressing it.

“Excuse me, but he doesn’t need your help and he’s fine. I’m his dad and I’m right here.”

“Well clearly he does need help because he’s about to fall,” she said in full condescending mommy tone.

“Maybe, maybe not. But either way he’ll be fine. I can parent my own kid.”

Then, just as she looked like she would blow her top, my boy came through big time and shut her up in the best way possible. Still hanging there, he politely said “No thanks, I can do it myself!” and proceeded to climb his way back to the platform without help from anyone.

I think it’s important for parents to let kids find their own way without babying them.

“Imagine that,” I muttered with a victorious smirk as Mrs. Know-It-All Mommy McMommerson huffed away, no doubt to get more bubble wrap to insulate her poor son from every bump and bruise on the horizon.

Look, you can parent however you want but I have multiple problems with what happened. First of all, it’s just another in a long list of examples that show some moms think they know everything — especially compared to dads. To openly step in and insert herself with me — the kid’s actual parent — right there? Maybe she would’ve done the same to another mom, but I doubt it. It’s a shitty attitude and I’m unbelievably sick of it.

Second, we are raising a generation of kids who know nothing about taking risks. Even on the monkey bars and playgrounds of America, the minute they hit some turbulence and adversity mommy and daddy are there to rescue them — and give them a trophy in the process. It makes me ill. My son won’t be great at everything, but he’s going to try his damndest. Because every attempt ends in failure until it doesn’t. Every fall builds determination to finish. Every setback is a lesson learned that gets you one step closer to your goal.

I let my son fall — and fail — so his future accomplishments will be that much sweeter and well-deserved.

Aaron Gouviea is a the founder of the Daddy Files, proud husband, father of 3 boys (7, 2, and 5 months), and director at a Boston PR firm currently living in southeastern Massachusetts.

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