One of the most fabulous things about being a grandmother is that I get to spend beautiful times with my grandchildren, watching them, marvelling in them and celebrating their little milestones and achievements.
Recently while spending some time with Miss E (2.3 years old) and her little sister Miss M (9 weeks), I was reminded of the incredible rollercoaster ride that parenting can be.
Miss E had mastered a new skill (unbeknownst to her parents), which involved standing on her tippy toes and sliding open the bolt on a 1.8 metre high wooden gate. She then proceeded or, more correctly, 'escaped' towards the front of the house.
Both mummy and nanny were flooded with angst and worry at what could have happened if we had not caught her in the act! Some time later over a cup of tea it occurred to me how incredibly clever and capable Miss E had been.
It reminded me of one of my sons who loved to climb — very early and very high — up any tree he could find. The part of me that wanted to keep him safe was always struggling with the part of me that wanted to see him be brave and conquer the world.
Watching how toddlers problem solve when left to their own initiative can be quite fascinating and also terrifying.
For example, Miss E has been very keen to climb into her baby sister's pram and, given that she is quite often covered in mud and dirt, she had been banned from doing so.
The pram was parked in the family room with nothing nearby for Miss E to stand on to facilitate her climb. One afternoon I noticed her standing beside that pram in deep thought — yep she was trying to find a way.
Next thing I noticed she was pushing her rocking moose (rather than a rocking horse) across the room towards the pram. I watched as she climbed on top of the moose and stepped quietly into the pram. I could not have been prouder watching my beautiful little granddaughter problem solve so efficiently.
One of my nieces shared the story of her daughter who was not yet walking. They live on a farm and daddy had just headed out the back door off to work.
As my niece came into the kitchen she noticed her clever little daughter had used the handles on the kitchen drawers, to climb up on top of the bench so she could look out the window to see where her daddy had gone! How incredibly clever are our little ones? And how often do they scare the heck out of us?
Toddlers are biologically wired to use all five senses to experience the world around them. That can be really frustrating when they have decided to block up the toilet with unravelled toilet rolls or smear mum's favourite night cream over the cupboard, the carpet, the cat and themselves!
In this process, though, they have created so many little neural connectors that ensure they will be just that little bit cleverer. I call these moments of toddler genius.
Toddlerhood is a time when children experience many bumps, bruises and 'owies' as they explore the world. A simple example is allowing your toddler to climb on the back of the couch, while knowing there's a chance they may fall a relatively safe distance.
The natural consequence of experiencing some pain if their climbing was unsuccessful is a really valuable part of childhood that helps our children recognise, without our help, that they may hurt themselves if they do that again the same way.
Part of our job as parents is to help our children to develop a tolerance for dealing with mistakes, moments of failure and adversity.
Stopping them from climbing, together with a lecture on how they could hurt themselves, can actually inhibit them from developing the grit and resilience we want them to have before they leave home to enter the big wide world.
"There are times that we have to allow our kids to hurt, or even fail, without rescuing them and depriving them of these valuable, resilience building lessons."
— Dr Daniel J Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson, The Yes Brain Child (2018)
Obviously, the caveat here is that we do of course stop them if they are about to do something obviously dangerous such as climbing on something too high or if there are sharp objects nearby for them to land on.
Thankfully, Mother Nature provides plenty of opportunities for her children to stretch, test themselves and sometimes fail. When the other incredibly important ingredient called play is added to the mix, our little ones experience many of these things over and over again while having fun.
The difficult part for many of today's parents, is giving their children the gift of freedom and opportunity by stepping back a little — to allow their children to explore and experience the natural world using their minds and bodies, while filling their hearts and souls with the joy of being a child.
So parents don't beat yourself up when your children break things or hurt themselves as they attempt to master a skill or test themselves. Remember, the rollercoaster ride that embraces both the exciting and the terrifying paradox is normal.
P.S. security at Miss E's has been upgraded so she cannot escape the side gate!
Maggie Dent is one of Australia's favourite parenting authors and her latest book, Mothering Our Boys: A guide for mums of sons, released in October 2018 is already a bestseller. Maggie is a former teacher and counsellor, as well as being a mum to four adult sons and five gorgeous grandkids.