Keeping Kids Safe ... and Stimulated

As a mother, you're always going to have that challenge of balancing what is safe and what is not safe. One of the important things to remember is that, while you want to keep them safe, and you don't want them to bang their head because you don't want to damage the brain, the brain has to be stimulated physically, emotionally, and intellectually to grow. Children need to do new things. They need to be able to run around. They need to be able to explore. So you can do just as much long-term--I don't want to say damage-- but interference with brain development if you keep them too shielded and too protected and not allow them to explore. The best thing you can do to kind of strike that balance is, number one, educate yourself on what a child can do developmentally. There are certain tasks that children at age 3, just simply cannot do because developmentally their muscles and nerves don't function that way. At the same time, once you've kind of given yourself a general idea, the best thing you can do is to know your kid. You know what your child can do. You know how impulsive your child is. You know how reactive they are to unexpected experiences. The key is to kind of monitor what they've mastered and constantly allow them to do the next step. You wouldn't go from them riding a tricycle to saying, "Here are the keys to the car." You'd go step by step. So the key is to really know what has your child mastered, and as soon as you find yourself feeling too comfortable-- my child has mastered it. He's fine.-- then you know it's time to move on and try something new to raise your anxiety again. So there's always a bit of edge in terms of letting them go. You're never going to be able to proof the whole world and prevent any kind of injury, but if you know where your child is, and you know what they're capable of, what their capabilities are--you constantly have to observe. Oh, they've mastered that. It's time to widen the circle a little bit and constantly let them go. The other thing is that, as a parent, if you have been spending a lot of time with your child and observing, go with your gut. I just taught my child to drive, and I told her when she first started, "I'm not going to let you do something that I don't feel is safe." No, I may not be able to explain to you why exactly you can't drive on the beltway yet, but in my gut, it is saying, "Don't do it," and I'm not going to let you do something that my gut tells me is not safe. Again, there is some of that intangible you know what your child can do, so listen to your gut. Know what children can do developmentally, recognize that they need to progress to the next step in order for their brain to continue to develop. And then pray a lot.

It's crucial to find a balance between keeping your child safe and allowing her to explore her world.

Celeste Campbell

Dr. Celeste Campbell is a neuropsychologist in the Polytrauma Program at the Washington, DC Veterans Administration Medical Center. She has a long history of providing cognitive psychotherapy and developing residential behavioral management programs for children and adults.

Posted on BrainLine February 7, 2011

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Brian King, BrainLine.

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