When children are small they learn to crawl, then eventually walk and climb. It is essential that they discover and practice these new skills on their own. Our role as grown-ups is to provide a safe, age-appropriate environment and emotionally support them through the learning process. When young toddlers start exploring new territories, we might need to stay close to make sure they are safe. What we don’t need to do is help them climb higher than they are ready for, or teach them how to climb up or down. Sometimes it can be very tempting for us to pick up toddlers and place them on a slide or a ladder, but it is important to slow down, observe, and wait.
By not helping children climb higher than they are able to, we:
- support their ability to estimate the risk
- allow children to learn about their own abilities
- allow children to learn how to keep themselves safe
- support the opportunity to feel confident and competent
- show trust from the parent or caregiver
- support self-esteem
- support intrinsic motivation
- give children more control in areas where they can do it themselves
- give children the opportunity to make their own decisions
Parents often ask me, “But what if he climbs up and doesn’t know how to climb down? Don’t we need to teach him how to get down?”
When children explore climbing structures for the first time I try to stay close enough to be able to soften a potential fall, yet not too close that they expect me to help them. When children start showing that they are stressed by the situation, I let them know that I am close, I see what they are doing, and narrate their moves; I might give them a suggestion and wait. Often children find a way down on their own, but if they become visibly stressed I say: “It looks like you tried enough for now; I will pick you up and bring you down.”
Why don’t I help move their legs and arms to ‘teach’ them to climb down? Because I trust that the best learning happens when children discover the way down themselves. It is impossible to teach balance – it happens through practice.
Although a little bit of stress can be good for the process of learning when children are too stressed, they do not learn anymore, so I try to avoid moving their feet and arms when they are crying or are stressed, and instead, I simply bring them down.
It is always a great joy for me to watch RIE students climb with grace, balance, and equilibrium, and it is amazing to watch them estimate the risk.
If you are interested, feel free to email or call me for more information about RIE® Parent-Infant Guidance™ Classes. (now also available on Zoom).
Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!
Photo credit: Lauren Pisano