The other day I watched two kids climb on a bank sign. They were trying to get up on the higher ledge to see how far they can climb. They were intently focused on the task, laughing, giggling, trying, failing, and trying again.
The parents were standing behind them talking, and after a few minutes they sternly told the kids to stop playing on the sign. The kids got down obediently and follow their parents into the restaurant looking defeated and disappointed.
A part of me cringes every time I see something like this happen.
I’m sure the parents had good reasons for telling their kids to stop playing on the sign. The bank is somebody else’s property, and they might not appreciate kids climbing all over there sign. Or maybe they were worried for their safety. It wasn’t that high up, but there was a possibility they could hurt themselves in an avoidable way. Or maybe the parents were just ready to go into the restaurant and were tired of waiting.
But there was no clear explanation. From the kids’ point of view, they were tackling a meaningful challenge before they were told to stop. The lack of an explanation likely reinforced the idea that they aren’t old enough to understand, so they should obey the authority of their parents blindly.
Now, I’m not a parent. I don’t have any experience raising children. But I was a child at one point in my life, and I remember being in similar situations. I remember doing things that I thought were fun and being told to stop without understanding why. I remember the feelings of playfulness and joy being replaced with guilt and shame.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to give a child the idea that they should obey authority without understanding the reasons for their boundaries. Children — humans — naturally push boundaries. We confront the unknown and prod at uncertainty in an attempt to grow and become stronger.
A seemingly inconsequential event like this without an explanation discourages that natural and playful growth process.
Don’t tell kids what they can and can’t do without a good explanation. Otherwise, let them experience the consequences and they’ll learn to be independent and develop an understanding of what they can and can’t do on their own.