Being free and independent is the goal for every human being. When we try to help and protect our children in every step without letting them try, fail or fall, we are giving them a feeling of incapability and we are infringing on their freedom to develop into independent human beings. When children are aware of their environment and their abilities, they develop well and learn how to protect themselves.
My son likes to walk around when I am sweeping or mopping the floor, but I’ve managed to keep him away most of the time because I want to get my work done without interruptions. Sometimes while sweeping, I allow him to walk through the dirt for him to fulfil his urge. I still do not know why he wants to walk through dirt, but my friends say that their young children like to do that as well. Walking through dirt is okay but I was usually hesitant to let him walk on a wet floor while mopping, with the fear that he would slip, fall and get hurt.
One day, I was mopping the floor and as usual, my child wanted to walk on the floor which was wet. I was alone so I asked him to sit on the sofa, but he refused to do so. I was worried that he would fall, and I kept telling him that he would slip (I thought he knew the meaning of slip) but he still wanted to walk on the wet floor. I then decided to let him experience the consequence of his choice. I stood nearby and allowed him to come. As soon as he stepped on the wet floor, he felt a loss of balance and looked at me with a worried expression. I looked at him and though I wanted to laugh out loud, I just calmly told him that this was what I meant when I said you will slip. I told him to go and sit on the sofa and he immediately obliged. After that incident, he always points to any spills and asks us to clean up. He uses the word ‘slip’ letting us know that someone might slip there.
I think that instead of protecting our children we should allow them to experience their fall and learn how to be independent and use their instinct about what is safe and dangerous. Of course, we do watch for their safety and not purposely put them in dangerous situations.
At one point in time, my son wanted to climb over everything. There is a step shelf at my place, which he would climb onto when he was mastering climbing and getting down from steps. He achieved the success of climbing up and down from it safely in a few attempts and his next move was to learn to jump. He knew he could not jump himself. So, after climbing up he would call me to come over and hold his hand so that he could jump. I would usually leave all the work I was doing and would come over to help him jump. He would repeat it many times and when I needed to go, I would tell him this would be the last time. He would test my patience and he would climb again and call me, but I would not go. This is a very important step – to keep to your word. If we are confident enough that our children can protect themselves, it’s very easy for us to leave them on their own while we are busy with our work. In this situation, I was having the confidence that he could climb down the step shelf and would be safe and it worked. He got down by himself realizing that I would not come.
“How does the child acquire this independence? He acquires it by means of continuous activity. How does the child realize his freedom? By means of continuous effort; what life cannot do is to arrest itself, to stop. Independence is not static. It is a continuous conquest. And by means of continuous work, one acquires not only freedom but strength and self-perfection.” – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
My son also liked to sit on the dining table chair while eating. He enjoyed sitting with us, but we were worried he would fall from the chair. So, we kept another chair by his side to prevent that. He would immediately move to that chair as if he is telling us, “Please don’t do all this, I can take care of myself!” He really wanted to exert his independence!
From my observation, I learnt that if children are independent, capable and they know themselves, fewer accidents will happen in their life, and we will also be able to concentrate on our work instead of getting worried about them.
“This is not a theory. This is not an opinion. These are clear natural facts, they are observed facts. When we say that we must render the freedom of the child complete, when we say that his independence and his normal functioning must be assured by society, we do not speak about a vague ideaL We speak because we have observed life, we have observed nature and nature has revealed this fact. It is only through freedom and by experiences upon the environment that man can develop.” – Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind