Walking the line between fun and safety

Ready for adventure ...
Ready for adventure ... 

I think it’d be fair to say that where our children are concerned, we all want them to have the best possible time and be completely, utterly, fantastically safe. In fact, we’d be concerned for any parent who didn’t feel that way. 

No one, and I mean not one single person, wants to be the parent of the kid who believed he was Superman and fell off the monkey-bars on the second last day of school and snapped his arm just above the elbow. The same kid who spent the entire summer up to his armpit in plaster. Mostly, because we never want to harm our kids, but also, because summer’s not really summer if you can’t swim.

About five years ago we were that family. And, whilst it wasn't that good, it wasn't actually that bad. Okay, it was bad. On the day nine-year-old Felix took that super-tumble, it was on my watch. I was the one who picked him up from school. He was desperate to show me his new trick on the monkey bars. ‘Just once, Dad. Just once!’ I didn’t want him to do it. I wanted to go home, instead of the usual monkey business, but I let him talk me around. ‘Come on, Dad. Just once. Pleeeeeeeeeease!’ 

So he did his trick once, which was pretty cool. Then he said, ‘Again? I’ll show you again?’  And because he looked so happy, which makes me happy, I let him show me again. Oh, man. If I could have that decision over I would make it very, very differently. 

We would have walked out of there, not been stretchered on an ambulance gurney. But then, what’s to say he wouldn’t have busted his little arm the next day doing something else? Every day kids play on the monkey bars and get away with it; this was just a great big chunk of rotten luck. Accidents happen.

The common sense gene is not always as prevalent as we’d like, which is why we should be around to help kids play safely. Which doesn’t mean dictate the terms, just help with the parameters.

I think we’d all agree that kids need to be able to play independently, to make up their own games and challenges without us hovering about yelping ‘careful’ and ‘gently’ and ‘don’t eat that!’ We have to give them some credit for being able to work things out for themselves. And that’s exactly what Felix was attempting to do – create his own game.

But then, they’re kids, aren’t they? The common sense gene is not always as prevalent as we’d like, which is why we should be “around” to help kids play safely. Which doesn’t mean dictate the terms, just help with the parameters. 

One of the best things about kids playing is their natural ability to turn something simple into something quite complex. A block of wood, for instance, can be a car, a boat, or a rocket. It can even be a footy or a netball. Or, it can be a block of wood.

Some of the best, most imaginative moments are when kids take something from the real world and turn it into something utterly different. The sight of a ten-year-old lining up a plastic bottle to boot between two fence posts fills me pride. You see, we might see them kicking their drink bottle, but they might be kicking a goal after the siren to win a grand final. And whilst we might think they’re going to damage the bottle and they should ‘stop that immediately,’ they might see us getting in the way of their greatest ever sporting achievement.


Tricky, isn’t it? Because they might just hate that particular drink bottle and they’re booting it into oblivion so they can get one they like. But chances are it’s the former, and it’s incredibly important to let them know it’s okay to have those kinds of games because the made-up play shows us all that they’re thinking, they’re using their imaginations. The creative switch is most definitely “ON”.

Maybe the trick with kids is to let them play; to experiment and create their own games in their own environments. So our job is to make sure those environments are safe, and if a child is playing happily with a lump of wood or a drink bottle or something else that looks like it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as something real, remember, it’s probably very real to them. 

As for Felix and his busted arm, it was a slow start to the summer. But it’s amazing how resilient kids are, and how quickly he was able to adapt and fit in, even though he was ‘armless. The sun still rose in the east and set in the west, and with a little imagination and a plastic bag or two, he was able to swim as well.  

How far is too far in the fun stakes? Should we let them go that far, or cut them off at the pass? Discuss on the Essential Kids Forums.