Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Transition; From Crawling to Walking and the Subsequent Baby-Proofing

Few subjects get talked about as much as mobility when you have a baby or toddler. "Is he/she crawling yet? Is he/she walking yet?" is the frequent question when you're updating family and friends on your child's progress. Indeed, its the thing that makes us realize in a heartbeat that what we are dealing with here is in fact a little person. Nothing is more in your face than a crawling or walking little being getting into the cupboards or grabbing at cords they can now reach or pushing chairs around on the floor and creating the most untolerable scraping noise on the linoleum. Until your baby crawls, scoots, or walks, people will think of your child as cute. When they make this transition however, they will now think it's hysterical, because now, you must baby-proof.

No one is more quick to point out the humor of this new situation than grandparents. Having already been there once themselves, they are completely immune to the distress that this transitionary period can inflict on the parents. And don't think that you'll get any sympathy either, because the moment you open your mouth to complain, rant, or just plain old get something off your chest, they will remind you how much trouble you were at this stage (as if you could remember, let alone do anything about it at this point). They make it pretty clear from the get-go; they will not be complained to, and they will not give you the pat on your shoulder that you so desperately want. They also are usually pretty tight-lipped about what they did to keep you out of the tangle of cords that your own son is now obsessed with. I guess they want me to figure out the secret for myself. (Note to self: do not be this unhelpful to Andrew and Morgan when they complain about their children getting into stuff.)

For myself, I didn't do a ton of actual "baby-proofing." By that I mean I didn't go and put corner protectors on every hard surface, tape foam to edges of furniture, or remove every object from reach that could hurt Andrew. And I know some of you mothers may be cringing at that thought, but resist the urge to compulsively come over to my house and soften every hard edge or corner there is and hear me out. Yes, I have moved a lot of objects out of his reach, and yes, for a time certain areas were blocked off entirely, and yes, there are some cupboards that have special locks on them because Andrew was too smart and strong for the traditional sliding cupboard door lock, but I have also deliberately left a lot of things out and within reach because Andrew needs to learn that there are things in his environment he is not allowed to touch.  I have also avoided baby proofing a lot of the hard surfaces because it teaches balance and agility. When a child falls into a certain corner or surface a couple times, they learn to slow down or to improve their balance in the vacinity of it, and other surfaces really quickly.

I know it sounds a little heartless, but I want my child to fall, and hurt himself now and then. It's how they learn, heck, it's how we, adults, learn too. Do I leave the door to the garbage can open anymore? No. Because I walked into it once when it was open, and I still have the bruise it left on my thigh. Lesson learned. Does Andrew sit on the couch with his back facing the room anymore? No, because he fell off backwards twice and hurt himself. Having obstacles in his environment teaches him to be careful, and aware of his surroundings. It teaches him better balance and agility, and as a result my child is 13 months old, and has been walking for only 3 months and rarely falls down or crashes into things. Yes, he still stumbles around like a drunken sailor, but his balance improves rapidly because of some stubborness on my part to not coddle him to death.

I also want to go back to the boundaries subject and clarify that. This is not meant as a judging statement, merely an observation of how some parents choose to raise their child, and the flaw I see in it, and my reaction to the perceived flaw. If the following is how you choose to raise your child, that's fine, you go do it. I simply choose to do things differently. I see quite often a toddler reach for an item they want and simply seize it - a telephone, a bottle, another child's toy, and think nothing of it. That's the way toddlers are - instinctive. They see it, they want it, they take it, even if they only keep it in their possession a few moments before tossing it aside. Many parent's response to this reaction is to put everything they don't want touched out of reach; cell phones, the house phone, etc, and yes, there are things I never let Andrew have if possible, like my own cell phone, since it's a) expensive and would be too costly to replace or b)it's very dangerous for him to have it, like a knife, but for the most part I have now chosen to use the word "no" and then actually stick to my guns.

In this way, Andrew learns boundaries. He no longer plays with the cords under the computer because he learned if he touched them, he would get in trouble. And the same thing is going for his most recent obsession, the house phone. He tries to touch it, or the Xbox controllers about 10-15 times a day. But that's down from the 30-40 times he tried just last week, and it will continue to go down as he learns from my repeated removal of the objects in question from his hand, and his punishment when he won't leave them alone. He tries to play with them too much, and he gets put in a time-out in his crib or playpen, end of story.

Going from stationary to crawling or scooting, and then to walking is a busy and important time in a child's life. I keep reminding myself that while some of the measures I have decided to take in raising my child are yes, more frustrating at the moment and sometimes very trying on my patience and sanity, that the first 5 years of life are the most important in a child's, not to mention a person's life. I believe that children learn to be aware of their surroundings and to be mindful of boundaries if those are empathsized in early childhood. Things like this are just as important as playing and eating at this time, and the lessons they learn now stick with them for years to come. Remember, the traits you want your child to have as an adult are not always the traits you want them to exhibit as a child (ie: independence) but it's important to foster them now, because your job will only get more difficult as they get older. There are days I resent it when Andrew tries to get into things, but I try to remember that curiousity, the desire to learn, and independence are all things I want him to have as an adult. So, I take a deep breath, remove him from the unwanted area, and then reward myself with a piece of chocolate (or 10) when the going gets tough.

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