Let your child get hurt

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Mummy Musings is a fortnightly column where Elisabeth Lee navigates the ups and downs of bringing up her daughter.

Summer means shorts, and shorts mean skinned knees. A is getting cuts and scrapes so frequently that we’ve stocked both bathrooms with jumbo boxes of Dora the Explorer Band-Aids. I’ve even stashed a few spare ones in my purse, should disaster strike while we are out and about.

We are truly lucky – touch wood – that disaster has never really struck. No broken bones, no concussions. But as parents, we have never let our fear of that get in the way of exploring and having fun.

In fact, I do think that letting your child naturally learn the limits of her world first-hand is the best way to teach them how to be safe. There’s nothing like coming up against the brutal realities of the laws of physics (knee, meet pavement) to provide a clear and compelling case for future prudence. In short, let them skin a knee or two now, and save them the broken leg later. 

This is what it looks like in the playground. When other mothers are hovering inches away from their children, I’m playing Words with Friends under the cool shade of the nearest tree. A is trying to get started on a climbing wall designed for five to 12-year-olds. She’s 18 months and determined to get off the ground. She’s tentative. Her knees shake with the effort. It takes all my self-control not to rush over and help her up. She tries, falls, tries again. She cries – out of frustration mostly, rather than pain. She looks over at me – I give her the thumbs up and yell words of encouragement. And then I go back to my game. She tries again.

Now that she’s three going on 13, we can’t keep up with her on that wall. She’s got it figured out – and she’s never fallen from it. The wall holds no challenge for her anymore, neither does the climbing frame nor the zipline. She’s brave, but not fearless. Up for a challenge, but not crazy. Yet, she still gets hurt – it’s the inevitable consequence of taking calculated risks.

And she’s still a baby. My baby. When she skins a knee or sprains a wrist or bumps her head, she still needs her mummy. I try and walk that fine line between being supportive, but not smothering. I want her to feel safe, but at the same time, she needs to learn to be independent.

What we do is to try and take our cues from her. We try not to overreact, and we are careful not to project our own worries and insecurities on her. I check her response – sometimes a brutal fall is followed up with a perky “I’m okay, mummy!” and off she goes to try again. But sometimes, what seems like a minor bump can turn into rivers of tears. It might be hard at first, but you can (and should) trust your child to tell you what he needs.

“But, my child is overreacting!” you might say in response. I’ve heard many comments of this nature – it’s a fake cry, those are crocodile tears, they’re just manipulating you. While the bump might have been – objectively speaking – a minor one, the hurt is still very real to your child, and their needs are still very authentic. Instead of dismissing your child, try reflecting their broader needs back to them: “You seem really upset by that fall! Maybe you need extra cuddles right now? I’m here for you if you need me.” To me, the last thing that I would want my child to think is that her mummy didn’t care.

In any case, remember this. Your child is not you. Their hurts are not yours, their risks are theirs to take (and perhaps yours to modulate, just a little). Your job is to be their safe zone, their source of calm and comfort. It’s not your job to prevent the storm, but to be the safe port for them when it strikes. So, let them climb that tree, ride that bike, take that risk – and let them remember that you are the one that picks them up when they fall.


Elisabeth Lee is proof that it is never too late to consider a second, third or even fourth career, having come to both motherhood and writing late in life. She occasionally freelances and can be reached at

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