Thursday Thoughts: Brave vs Careful

After dinner last night I left the dishes for later and played with Nora, our 15 month old, on the floor in the kitchen. She was having fun just babbling and pulling things out of drawers and then she saw it. The step stool.

This stool has been well used in our home forever and before that it was well used in my husband's grandparent's home. Its always within arm's reach to help get to a top shelf and its my preferred perch in the kitchen to eat a snack. Its got the cool steps that flip up under the seat so it doesn't take up much space. Recently, Nora realized it was a neat thing to climb, so, I end up pulling her off the bottom step quite frequently and redirecting her to something safer.

As expected, she made a beeline for the step stool tonight. Rather than pull her off again, I sat on the floor next to the stool and let her explore it to her heart's content. She sat on the bottom step. Then she turned around and started to climb onto the bottom step. When she got onto the step, she, of course started to try and climb onto the 2nd step. It occurred to me as I was sort of hovering and using my hands to spot her as she worked to figure out the best way to reach the summit, that there were all kinds of cautions on the tip of my tongue.

"You can only do this when Mama is here to keep you safe."

"This is dangerous and you need my help."

"You're too little to do this on your own."

"You can't go all the way to the top, that's too high for you."

"Be careful!"

But, each time I opened my mouth to actually speak these words, I heard a translation of them in my own head.

"You won't be able to accomplish your goal unless I'm here to help you."

"When something is scary or difficult, you won't be able to do it on your own."

"You're not big enough or strong enough to handle this."

"Your goal is unreachable."

"Be scared!"

Each phrase of caution ended up sounding like it was taking away her strength and potential. I didn't want to speak fear over her. I didn't want her to shrink in the face of a challenge or give up when it seemed too difficult. I didn't want her to doubt her ability to accomplish her goal. I wanted to commend her for her bravery and strength. I wanted her to thrill in the fact that she was doing something BIG!

So, I didn't say anything for a few minutes. I just watched her. Her face screwed up in frustration and then lit up with joy. She asked for help and I offered a solution. I didn't do it for her. She took her time and I could see she was thinking and analyzing and she was so pleased with herself. THEN, I told her she was courageous. She tried to repeat the word courageous. I said she was brave. She repeated the word brave. I said she was strong. She repeated the word strong.

A lightbulb went on in my head. It was like she was doing self-affirmation. She's a parrot right now. She basically repeats the last word of every sentence she hears. So she was affirming to herself that she was courageous, brave and strong without even knowing it. It reminded me of the affirmation that Aibilene had the baby girl do in the book The Help "You is kind, you is smart, you is important."

Now, I know, she's only 15 months old. I was just inches away from her. She wasn't in any danger. I wasn't going to walk away and let her fall and crack her head open, but I also didn't want to undermine her sense of adventure and strength. Toddlerhood is all about pushing limits and learning boundaries. I know that there are some situations that are absolutely not safe, but this was an opportunity for her to test HERSELF not the boundary. From here on out I'm going to keep my eyes open to the opportunities that arise for all of our kids to test themselves. Pass or fail, its always a good lesson.

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