Children: a risky business

In the last Parenting Toddlers Discussion Group, some of us talked about the difficulty in drawing the line between allowing our kids to take risks and protecting them from danger. It made me remember something that happened when my first child was born. One of the many worries I had was SIDS, also known as “crib death”. I became a bit paranoid with the fear that Nina would die in her sleep.

One day, in my new-mom-extremely-overwhelmed state, my reasoning went something like this: “If I thought that my child was going to die in her sleep, I’d spend all night awake with her, just monitoring her breathing, and that way she wouldn’t die. I love her so much, and I’d do anything to avoid it. So the only logical thing for me to do is to stay up all night monitoring her breathing every night, just in case.”

I called my partner in a frenzy.

“It makes sense, right? I just have to watch her all the time, and it will be fine!”

Thankfully he quickly pointed out the flaw in my logic: risk is everywhere. Why stop with SIDS? Crossing the road can be very dangerous too, so I should definitely be confined to staying on the block by my house. There are some neighborhood children that my kids could visit, but oh the germs! They could be carrying a deadly virus so the only sensible thing to do is avoid all exposure to other children. You know, just in case. I love her dearly, so I should do anything in my power to protect her, right?

Well, wrong.

Why? Basically, because by avoiding hypothetical risks I’d certainly be causing a lot of harm to her socially and psychologically, both directly and indirectly, by teaching her to be afraid of everything. A recent paper talks about this issue with regards to possible dangers on children’s playgrounds. It was featured in a Globe and Mail article and the gist of it is that if children don’t learn to take age-appropriate risks, they are at an increased risk (there’s that word again!) of psychopathology. So yesterday when Nina asked to ride her bike to school, I didn’t bubble-wrap her. But I did strap a helmet on her precious little head and stayed close by, just in case…