Our household is pretty liberal in many ways. Our kids are allowed to climb and stand on stools and help cook at the stove. They get to hold butter knives and forks. They fly up and down the stairs. They carry their plates and cups to the table. The result is that they make a lot of messes which we help clean up, they understand that one needs to be careful around the stove and they learn some impressive balancing skills.
For the most part, all of their bumps and bruises (of which there are many) happen when they are walking or running across the floor. They’re almost one and a half and two and a half. They’re careless on the flat floor and careful on the higher elevations.
When they are climbing a stool or balancing without supports, we try to give suggestions rather than warnings. We try to say things like, “Use the counter to help you balance if you need to” instead of “Careful – you might fall.”
It’s pretty good stuff I think.
But there are those few things where we really intervene and do some major Serious Voices backed up with time-outs if need be, such as playing with the outlets (luckily it doesn’t happen) or wrestling in the tub.
Today another one came up – money in the mouth.
When I was in elementary school, somehow I got it into my brilliant mind that I could use my mouth as a coin purse. After lunch, I’d pocket my extra change in my cheek. (It sounds so gross in hindsight!)
This worked well for me for quite a while, until one day when I had three pennies in my cheek and I started to laugh and the pennies got stuck in my throat and I couldn’t breathe. I remember going into the office with a friend next to me and I also remember not knowing what to do. I couldn’t talk and even if I could, I was so dang shy, I don’t know if I would have said anything. I suppose I probably was able to get some air down because I was able to cough up the pennies onto the floor of the office where they sat in a pool of bubbly saliva. But before that happened, I remember being scared and realizing that nobody knew how close I was to dying. They just saw a shy girl standing in the office. The experience spooked me and I stopped using my cheek as a coin pocket.
So when little boy put a penny in his mouth yesterday, I felt those fears shy up. I gave the wide eyed talk of “Oh this is very unsafe” and I gave two reasons (germs and choking). But it didn’t seem to gel with him because today he discovered another penny and he put it in his mouth. I did the very serious talk and I took it away and put it away. Later, he asked if he could play with it and said, “Mommy. Money not go in mouths. Money not for eating.” Figuring he got the idea, I took the penny out and he played appropriately with it until he was seduced by it’s coppery allure and began licking it and biting it.
Do all kids do this?
So I promptly took the penny away and put it out of reach where he couldn’t get it and choke on it like I did three and a half decades ago.
My boy is pretty cautious by nature so teaching him to be conscientous and careful is pretty easy (little girl is a different story). Later today, after the money incident, little boy and I baked a cake. When it was time to come out of the oven, he used a sharp knife (with me supervising) to check that the cake was done. He did great! He kept a careful distance from the stove and held the knife with respect. He was quite proud of “his knife” because he knew that it was a special event that warranted great responsibility.
But he just doesn’t get why money in the mouth isn’t okay and I didn”t really know what message to give other than “I coulda died when I was a kid!” or a lot of consistent “not okays” (I’m opting for the latter which will probably work over time).
We live in a time where people seem either too lenient and neglectful or far too controlling (I’m specifically thinking of some of the blogs that have arisen in response to these times). I like that I grew up exploring the outdoors and crossing fallen logs over the creek. I don’t like some up the bumps and bruises that happened along the way, but they seemed like good lessons for the next time I was climbing a tree or biking too quickly down a hill on my friend’s handlebars.
Money in the mouth is another lesson I learned all on my own.
But I also appreciate the adult guidance and the boundaries and rules that existed in my life. They kept me from making some dumb decisions – or from being very, very careful when I proceeded anyway.
Today, I bombed at conveying the seriousness of coins in the mouth. Perhaps it’s not really that horrible a thing, but it sure seems scary to me. Tomorrow he will probably find some more loose change and we’ll put it up in a jar to save or something else that will appeal to his two-year-old ways – we’ll find a better way to keep money out of his mouth, but overall…
it leaves me pondering what other scary experiences from childhood will impact the lessons I share with my kids.
(Don’t touch fuzzy caterpillers because they could KILL you! Is that really true? I was terrified of them as a child.)