Be the 'lazy' parent
As I walked through the park this morning, I did so to the sounds of happy laughter and excited screams. There were two parents sitting on the park bench chatting as they watched their kids running around. There was a little boy who had taken his shoes off to take a second attempt at climbing to the top of the slippery slide. His sister was hanging upside down from the monkey bars, her hair falling in her eyes. Another boy was climbing a nearby tree, he called out for help to one of the parents on the bench, they called back to him to slowly climb back the way he came, he did and found his own way down. Nearby a little girl was clambering up a cargo net, her mother stood anxiously behind her, hands out ready to catch her should she need it. Another child, having seen the boy climb down the tree ran over to try it for himself, his father called him back explaining he could fall and break his arm and would get his new pants dirty.
In this scenario, be the ‘lazy’ parent. Be the parent sitting on the park bench. Supervise them without interference.
Let your kids walk around barefoot. The Victorian government issued guidelines on children’s feet and shoes recommending, amongst other things, that “toddlers should go barefoot as often as possible to encourage balance, posture and coordination”. Children taking their shoes off to climb a tree or a slide are instinctively doing so to manage risk and increase their chances of successfully making it to the top.
Let your kids engage in risky play. Let them climb the slide and hang upside down off the monkey bars. Through play they are learning important life lessons. They are learning risk management, decision making, to trust in their own abilities and problem solve.
And let them climb up the slide (as long as no one is waiting to come down or already coming down). Climbing up the slide is not an easy thing to do. They likely won’t succeed on their first attempt. Watch and see if they try again or find another way. Then watch the sense of achievement when they reach the top. Yes, this may teach them there are exceptions to rules, this is a good thing, let them question the rules.
Here in Canberra, kids understand, like in the rest of Australia, the rule is ‘no hat, no play’ and for good reason. The sun can burn your skin, except during the months of June and July when even the ACT Cancer Council endorses no hat play. During those two months the UV levels are too low to damage the skin but it is important for Canberrans to expose as much skin to the sun as possible in order to absorb sufficient levels of vitamin D. Hence the exception to the ‘no hat, no play’ rule - ‘end of May is hats off day’.
So during winter, be the lazy parent sitting on the park bench watching your child, the one not wearing a hat or shoes, climbing the play equipment.