Why I let my 2 year old daughter climb the rocks at the beach

Kids seem to have a natural attraction to the rocks at the beach. We've all seen it. Nearly every beach in the northeast has natural rock formations, seawalls or jettys. And there may as well be a neon sign above them all, saying “Climb Me”.

Well, this summer my 2.5 year old daughter was seemingly beckoned by the seawall. Every visit to the beach had somewhat of a predictable routine. First she’d bolt to the water, yelling "Come on Dadda!". Then after about a half hour she’d get a chill, and turn her focus to the warmer sand and of course, the damn seawall. Time after time, I'd chase her down, and point her back to our chairs, using the usual bribery tactic, “lets get a snack, a drink, or go see Mommy”. Then one day, during a late afternoon trip to the beach, I decided not to stop her, and instead I followed her up the rocks.

While she scaled and traversed the boulders, I only stayed close enough to catch her if she fell. I just let her lead the way. And Let me tell you, I was impressed. And not just because she was able to negotiate herself up and around boulders that I didn’t think she could, I know she's an agile and capable kid, but I hadn’t realized how the process challenged her strategic thinking, which required that she learn how to include safety among top considerations. 

How much strategy could be in traversing the seawall, right? Well for 2 1/2-year-old who is half the size of most of these boulders, quite a bit. But before I delve into the key lesssons of this experience, let's identify and assess the risks. It’s obvious right, she could slip and get hurt and potentially badly hurt. And to mitigate those risks I was attuned to her every move – completely unbeknownst to her, and that's Key Number 1. While her bare, sandy little feet were pressed up against rocks and her arms stretched to the limit for the next hand hold, I was close enough to snag her if she slipped. But I let her lead the way, and command me where we were going - Key Number 2. And there's one word I did my very best to never use: “Careful” - Key Number 3. Of course, alerting her of potential danger is important, but I intently reserved my sparing words for encouraging and constructive remarks. And let’s be honest, the word Careful is so overused, that it’s basically meaningless to these kids.

So in summary, I’ve learned that letting my daughter push her boundaries (and my fatherly comfort zone), helped her build confidence, awareness, and maybe a little sense of pride that will plant a growning seed that challenges and obstacles aren’t things to be cautioned away from.

And lastly, for all us parents who constantly find ourselves saying CAREFUL... come on, we’re all guilty... Nextime, try to say something constructive to help her learn to make better decisions on her own. 

Thoughts?! Comment below.  

For more boundary pushing parenting advice, check out this TED Talk that encouraged me to write this post 6 months after our adventure(s). 

To raise brave girls, encourage adventurehttps://www.ted.com/talks/caroline_paul_to_raise_brave_girls_encourage_adventure