10 reasons to stop cotton wool parenting
You are a parent. Looking after kids is your job right? And to do that job well you have to protect them from danger. But are you overprotecting them? Are you cotton wool parenting? I’m forever wondering whether I’ve got the balance right between protecting from genuine threats and giving the freedom to explore and experience the world and the risks that exist in it.
The world’s a risky place, isn’t it?
It’s all too easy to list the evils of the modern world; aggressive traffic, stranger danger, bullying, drink, drugs, extreme weather. And look, even in my opening paragraph I’ve already assumed a world of risk ‘out there’. And the media does a pretty good job of bringing to our attention the nastiest things that can happen too, amplifying any sense of unease. To the point where it can easily feel irresponsible to let the kids walk to school, play in the woods, stay out after dark or talk to strangers. When I think about these things it just seems so natural to get out those kid sized puffy white cotton straightjackets. But at what cost?
I see childhood as a time for experimenting with the world, a time for play, for learning, for trial and error, for splashing about in society, dipping a toe into the outdoors, and trying out different character traits to see which suit. I’d rather like to see adulthood as that too, but that’s a different post. As a parent, I think it’s my duty to help my kids with all of this, and to guide them around the traps of modern life. But ‘guiding around’ is different to ‘avoiding at all costs.’
But what does risk averse ‘cotton wool parenting’ teach?
I mean what do I implicitly teach them about the world if I let my parenting style be dominated by risk aversion? How does that help them explore and discover the big wide world they will eventually have to live in. Alone. Without me. Don’t kids need to experience risk and challenge and need to learn how to deal with it? And can they do that wrapped in cotton wool?
Although they may not make the news like a shooting or child abduction, there are equally compelling reasons for giving kids freedom, letting them out into the world to make mistakes and learn. So, in the interests of balance, and to remind myself of the importance of this, here’s ten reasons not to give into the urge to wrap kids up in the fluffy stuff. At least from time to time.
10 reasons to stop being a cotton wool parent
1) It teaches kids to make decisions for themselves
If you never expose your children to risk how will they learn to assess danger for themselves? If a toddler can trip or fall over an obstacle then they probably will. But next time in that situation they’ll negotiate a way over or around it or give it a miss. If you allow and encourage your child to assess how risky something is for themselves, you help them learn to make sensible judgements.
2) It helps develop their confidence
Making decisions, taking responsibility for your own actions and dealing with the consequences of those actions breeds confidence. Who doesn’t want confident children?
3) It encourages independence
Do you really want a teenager who can’t cross the road without you holding their hand? If you don’t let kids experience the world for themselves, it’s going to be terrifying later, for both of you! Teach them the ropes of any activity, tame or extreme, then let them get on with it. You’ll thank yourself in the end when you have independent kids who realise how much freedom you gave them compared to their friends.
4) Kids need fresh air and freedom to grow
Research suggests we are breeding a nation of Nintendo kids, more familiar with the screen than the sky. Is this what you really want? What happened to fresh air and the freedomto wander? Let them out on their own occasionally. Boot them out if you have to. They will come back again. When they’re hungry.
5) It helps them make and live with their own choices
Imagine a life without choice. If you are cotton wool parenting then you are taking away their power and ability to make choices for themselves. You might as well lock them in their bedrooms until they reach 18. It’s not necessary to dive in and sort out every problem for them. A little well placed ‘benign neglect’ can require kids to make choices and deal with things for themselves.
6) It shows them you believe in them
If your children feel you believe in them, they will be happier, more go getting people. If your children don’t feel you believe in them, what do they learn?
7) It gives you and them more freedom
Remember how great it felt when your parents sent you off out to play in the streets or picnic in the park, on your own? Why not offer some of thatjoy and freedom to your kids? Give them a watch, a phone and a time to come home. The first outing is the hardest, and then it gets easier.
8) Giving responsibility teaches responsibility
Responsible kids become responsible adults and responsible parents. The way you treat your kids shapes the way they will treat theirs. If you create cotton wool kids you may get generations of cotton wool grandchildren too.
9) It helps develop resilience
Children are resilient. They bounce when they fall out of bed. Scrapes, scratches and grazes heal. Why not send them up a tree or off to scale a mountain. Let them discover their resilience.
10) It provides the space we all need to explore, discover, learn and grow
Pessimism breeds Eeyores. Stop thinking negatively. Let them think they can have the moon on a stick and see where that takes them. They may settle for just the moon or just the stick or think both are ‘so last year.’ But at least you’ve shown them the possibilities. And life, in the end, is all about seeing the possibilities.
You might also like:
- Meet Adventure Mum Jane Yates
- Interview with Adventure Dad Charley Boorman
- Kids need adventure, parents need to teach them how
- 10 reasons not to be a cotton wool parent
- My Dad taught me to be an everyday explorer
- Even if you think you can’t, you probably can
- Adventure! is on the curriculum at Adventure Schools
How do you teach your kids about risk? We’d love to hear your comments below.