Help me not be such a neurotic freak of a mom!
September 18, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Do I need to calm down A LOT, or is it okay to yell until I'm hoarse in the hopes of keeping them safe when my little kids create such out-of-control craziness?

I'm the mother of a 4.5 yr old girl and a 3 yr old son. My anxiety goes through the roof and I freak out whenever they run around chasing each other screaming, poke and prod and pull on each other in tugs of war, and do other supposedly normal things in the house that could cause someone to get hurt. I was an only child growing up so I never ever saw anyone running in our house and I never got wild like that with my friends when I was that young. (I think I might be just a bit uptight. :) )

My husband comes from a family of 6 children, and he says that this is all totally normal, and is even mild by comparison to what he's seen and been a part of.

So, this weekend we got them 2 big-kid twin beds, one for each of their rooms. Each bed is about 2 feet off the floor. I got a bed rail for the 3 yr old, but not for the 4.5 yr old.

The kids were so excited by the beds that they climbed onto the little one's and were hanging on the bed rail, standing up, jumping on the bed, and the little one was trying to do somersaults toward the headboard (which is a little bookcase).

Okay, so I totally freaked about this and told them to stop and get down, etc. etc. and made a scene. I hate when I lose it like that, but I'm so afraid that they'll get hurt, especially now that they're 2 to 2.5 feet off the ground! My little one even stuck himself between the bed rail and the headboard, trying to wiggle out of bed head first.

Anyway, my husband says that the kids will not hurt themselves severely even if they fall out of this big-kid bed.

Do I need to calm down A LOT, or not? What advice can you give me to try to not lose it whenever I see our kids potentially getting hurt (though perhaps not seriously?) ? How do I deal with this anxiety that has been rolling through my veins constantly ever since the second one was born? Your answers will help not only me but hopefully our kids as well. Thank you!
posted by minx to Human Relations (45 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I tell my spouse regarding yelling:

You want them to actually stop running into the street when a car is coming, right? Well, save your yelling for that.

Bouncing on the bed? Probably not going to really hurt them. This is the time to discipline them, not yell.

What disciplinary strategy do you guys use? If you don't have one, I suggest 1-2-3 Magic.
posted by k8t at 8:08 PM on September 18, 2011 [17 favorites]

Sounds to me like there are two different issues.

#1 is deciding what's normal and acceptable.

#2 is figuring out how to deal with breaches of normality or acceptability.

#1 is all on you. I think I lean more towards your husband's point of view, but if you don't want them doing somersaults at the book case, that's certainly reasonable.

As for #2, I'm also a fan of 1-2-3 Magic. It's no silver bullet, but it does give you reasonably effective tools that don't involve a bunch of screaming. And maybe it doesn't even matter if it's any more or less effective - if you don't like the yelling, anything that doesn't involve yelling would be an improvement. :)
posted by colin_l at 8:14 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it impossible that they could get hurt? No. It's possible. They could break an arm or something like that. But you should calm down, anyway.

First, your husband is right. Kids chase, push and pull on each other all of the time. Really, nearly constantly. They almost never get hurt beyond a bruise.

Second, they can get hurt doing almost anything. Kids are clumsy (especially at that age). Given how little control they have over their bodies. Just walking around is dangerous.

So, basically, unless you intend to cover them from head to toe in bubble wrap there is basically nothing you can do to ensure that they won't get hurt. And as you are realizing turning into a raging, yelling maniac isn't constructive.

Instead, try to intervene only when they are getting into really dangerous areas (there should be absolutely no running around a pool, no roughhousing in the tub, etc.). Otherwise look for more subtle ways to ameliorate their behavior, without trying to stop it altogether.

I opt for even toned explanations that maybe it's just not a good idea to hit each other with sticks (while taking the sticks away). At most I'll raise my voice (only as loud as I need to to grab their attention) and call them by name.
posted by oddman at 8:20 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I say, yes, calm down a lot. One of my 5 year old son's friends has a mom that panics every time he reaches to pick up some shiny object of desire he's spotted in the grass at the park.

"ROSCOE! (cue me snickering every time I hear that name, I'm sorry, I can't help it) PUT THAT DOWN. GET OVER HERE NOW, DROP THAT I SAID. USE THIS HAND SANITIZER, A LOT OF IT! BE CAREFUL ON THAT SLIDE, YOU'RE GOING TO FALL AND BREAK YOUR NECK! WATCH OUT, DON'T GET HURT, BEEEEEEE CARRREEEFULLLLLLL" It's amazing that Roscoe (tee hee) isn't a quivering bowl of jelly already.

k8t is right on about saving your yelling for when they run into the street or reach for a pot handle on the stove. Let them run around and enjoy each other and be kids. Teach them that when Mom says no, or mom says stop, she means it. If you're constantly freaking out about normal happy horseplay, they'll tune you out and you'll start yelling louder and feeling worse and everyone will suffer.

This doesn't mean that you should allow them to be undisciplined brats .. make some sensible rules and stick to them. But "making a scene" as you described it because they're bouncing on their new beds? Dial it back.
posted by Kangaroo at 8:22 PM on September 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Please calm down. A lot. My parents yelled constantly. They're both just loud people. What happened is that we (my brother and me) learned to tune it out. Oh? Mom's yelling again? Well, someone probably left their books out on the table. Mom's yelling again? She probably just wants us to come see something on the news. Mom's yelling again? We must be about to get hit by a car. Whatever. It all just becomes background noise, whether it's important or not.

My uncle, on the other hand, almost never yelled at his kids. He's a loud guy, too (has the Loud Family genes), but he never yelled at his kids. Unless it was a Serious Big Deal. I heard him yell at my cousins maybe two or three times growing up, and they stopped dead in their tracks immediately. My brother and I just happily went on beating each other up.

Oh, that's another thing. The siblings roughhousing with each other? Hell yes it happens. My brother and I roughhoused and fought for yeeeeaaars, well into our teens, long after we should have "grown out of it." Neither of us ever got (severely) injured. We're best friends now.

If I were you (which I'm not...not a parent, just offering some advice), set out some NEVER EVER DO THIS EVER ground rules. In our house we had four:

1) No fighting near bricks (the fireplace/outside steps) because those will hurt you.
2) No fighting on or at the top of the stairs.
3) No fighting or running close to a set of antique vases that belonged to my great-grandmother.
4) No fighting (or even touching each other) when someone has a q-tip in their ears. (My mom jammed a q-tip through her eardrum once when my dad snuck up behind her shortly after they were married.)

We may have spent most of our time beating the piss out of each other, and we may not have given a damn when our parents yelled at us, but we respected those rules. Always.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 PM on September 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Your kids are learning how to control their bodies. Rough-housing is one of the ways they learn their limits and improve their physical skills. It's better for them to have opportunities to do this at home, with your help and supervision, then to go out in the wide wide world and fall down and crack their heads open there.

I'd suggest making some changes to your house so that you are more comfortable with them being physically active. Install carpeting in the bedroom so the floor is a bit padded. Put foam edging on the corners. In addition, maybe you can designate one area to be the 'play area' and re-direct them to be physical there. Make that room totally childproof and put in some big bouncy toys.
posted by bq at 8:26 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first thing I thought of when I read your question was that I wish I'd stopped yelling at my kids when they frustrated me with their rough housing and wrestling many years ago. I have two boys, somewhat close in age, that seem to go into their own world at times when it comes to horseplay, wrestling, and more recently, actual fights. I would yell and holler but I felt like they tuned me out, completely ignoring me. The yelling seemed to impact them less and less as the years went by, but it impacted me more and more. For one thing, allowing myself to yell at them for these sort of ruckus raising/ tearing around the house incidents actually made it easier for me to yell at them for other things, not something I really wanted to do as a parent. But more worrisome, lately when I yell at them for fighting or horseplay, not only do they ignore me, but I am suffering some unwanted physical side effects. I feel a surge of adrenaline during the yelling, that doesnt seem to leave me when the incident is over. I feel a rapid heartbeat and difficulty coming back to normal. I think it is a sort of anxiety attack. If I could go back in time to when the boys were your kids ages, I would tell myself to not fall into this yelling habit strictly to protect my health a decade later, if for no other reason. Me personally, I cant stand the tearing through the house and hard rough housing, and I actually wish I'd done more to curtail it when they were younger. ( the yelling was pretty infective to boot)
Good Luck!
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but my parents were pretty overprotective when I was a kid, esp with me because I was a girl, over my brother. It still makes it hard for me to try scary new things because OMG you'll get hurt is ringing in my ears, even now in my thirties. I've had to push to get over it. I love my parents and know they meant their best, but I think I would have been better off being allowed to be a bit more rough and tumble and had some trips for stitches as a kid.
posted by sweetkid at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's both inevitable and important that your kids occasionally get hurt.

Not in serious ways, but small errors in judgment and the scrapes and bruises that result are a crucial part of childhood.

It's way more important to have a mother with less anxiety than it is to have a few less scars.
posted by mercredi at 8:33 PM on September 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

Aside from whether or not you're over-reacting (i think you are, centuries of children all around the globe have run and pulled and poked and jumped and fought and almost all of them turned great), you should at least recognize that yelling and freaking out is an incredibly ineffective way of changing or stopping your children's behaviour, and is not making you a better parent, even if your fears are valid.
posted by Kololo at 8:39 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to tell over the internet - your "freaking out" and "anxiety" might be harmless. However, it's a really bad idea to tie your kids' need to take care of themselves to negative things like anxiety, anger, and/or violence. That happened to me, and the resulting associations have taken years, and years, and years, and years to undo. Generally there are about 50 million ways of teaching a child about the world around him, and about proper self-care, that are better than showing him how anxious it makes you, because that just teaches him that he's a source of anxiety. Next stop, Therapyville, USA.
posted by facetious at 8:39 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seriously, calm down.

A big part of being a parent is letting the kid(s) make mistakes and learn on their own. Obviously, you don't let them do anything too risky, but nothing you've described is in that league.

Take the long view. Your goal is not only to keep them alive and healthy but to lay the foundation so they grow up to be emotionally and mentally healthy.

Get on the bed with them and show them how to jump and fall correctly. They should be bold and daring and willing to take risks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:47 PM on September 18, 2011

If you're yelling until you're hoarse, it isn't working right, so whether or not the running around is okay, the yelling is a failed strategy that needs to be replaced with one that is effective.

I lean towards no roughhousing in the house IF they have plenty of time outdoors and plenty of exercise. If not, that's something to fix in order to have calmer children--they need to get physical activity somehow.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:50 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a scar along one of my fingers that I received when I was three. My dad gave me a saw and let me cut up branches that he'd pruned off a tree in the backyard. Somehow, and I couldn't tell you how exactly, I managed to cut my finger with the saw, and I still have the scar 27 years later.

Nevertheless, I am now a fairly successful grown man with a wife and child of my own (and 10 functioning fingers). All this despite being injured slightly as a child. I think your kids will be OK.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:51 PM on September 18, 2011

I just read your previous question about your smothering mom. Do you think there's any relationship between how she was as a parent and this situation?
posted by selfmedicating at 8:54 PM on September 18, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your comments. I think the most important thing I've learned so far is: name the few things that are serious and make those rules around the house, and let the rest go. Oh, and this one is great: kids do these things. Thank you so far :)
posted by minx at 8:55 PM on September 18, 2011

As a mom, I also recommend 1-2-3 Magic.

That said....

I have a daredevil cat who refuses indoor living. I learned not to reprimand her except in one instance - when she was headed toward the street and cars! I did this because constantly yelling would be a waste, I saved it for The Big One.

You need to calmly explain things to your kids and ask for their cooperation.

If my non-verbal cat can understand me on that, when I simply ask for cooperation, your kids sure can. I love my cat. She taught me how to be a great mom to my son!

Also. Call those folks I linked to. Your anxiety is a problem and you need tools to curb that.
posted by jbenben at 8:55 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: selfmedicating,

Well I'll tell you that I wasn't allowed to do anything physical when I was growing up. I had to stay on our block when I was outside until I was like 10.

My mom and dad didn't give me any advice on how to parent, or how to do anything really. So, I'm figuring it all out on my own.

And, since we weren't a healthy family, I had no sense of what that is until recently. Now, I think knowing something about a healthy human being is helping my parenting too.

Do you see other connections in it?
posted by minx at 8:59 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've yelled myself horse, but that was once and involved a 7yro and a 4yro having a sword fight with laptops. I try to never yell, because I want something in reserve for big time, and because I don't like it.
I tend to agree with your husband, and while it is likely that sooner or later your kids will get some injury, there really isn't anything you can do to stop that.
And in terms of discipline? 1-2-3 (it's technically a modified Glasser system, I think) style works for many kids, but not all. I have one child for whom it is useless.
posted by bystander at 9:08 PM on September 18, 2011

Haha, I just watched my 3 year old somersault off our bed tonight because she didn't believe me when I said she'd fall off.

She learned a good lesson, and was landing feet first on carpet so it just scared her.

Anyway, yeah, calm down. I find that I ignore everything my mother tells me, pretty much, because of her endless yammering on about how I'd get hurt when I was a kid. All that crying wolf didn't do a thing except to teach me to tune her out.
posted by gaspode at 9:08 PM on September 18, 2011

Best answer: I understand your fear. Seeing a little person get hurt is excruciating. But think about it this way. A broken arm will heal. But the scars from growing up in an anxious, antagonistic, emotionally volatile environment will last a lot longer... they just don't appear as quickly.

I think you need to take a step back. Worry a little bit less about their physical safety, and think more about how you can support their emotional development in a way that nurtures a sense of confidence, adventure, and trust, both in you and in themselves.

The pain of cuts and bruises and even broken bones will pass. Growing up with a calm, nurturing parent leads to feelings of self-confidence and optimism. That's a powerful gift, and it lasts a lifetime. You can give them that gift.
posted by crackingdes at 9:09 PM on September 18, 2011 [44 favorites]

I would like to bring up a related issue to you. When you show fear, it teaches your children that what they are doing is terrifying. If even their big strong invincible (as they see it) mother is afraid, then what they are doing must cause an apocalypse!

As an example, if you freak out in fear when they climb a tree, you have just taught them that heights are terrifying. Thees type of fears can last a lifetime.

When I was young, I was taught that cars were terrifying. My father is a former police officer who has seen too many young people get into serious car wrecks. From the time that I was very young he scared the ever loving sh*t out of me about how dangerous cars/street were.

I am 28 years old and am still viciously fighting to get over my crippling fear of driving. It is easily one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to overcome (and I made it threw astrophysics graduate school, yes, this is even harder then that).

He currently believes that teaching me fear instead of simply teaching me to be careful was one of the worst things that he ever could have done to me.
posted by Shouraku at 9:21 PM on September 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

My now-five-year-old developed a daredevil streak when she was about 18 months old. She's also as stubborn as a thirsty mule, so trying to get her to stop just made things worse. I had to learn to sit on my hands and just mutter "Bones heal. Scars make good stories. Emergency room doctors are really good at their jobs," under my breath. Because honestly -- it's the truth. Bones DO heal. Emergency room doctors ARE good at their jobs. I'm not saying that a broken arm or a bleeding scalp laceration are no big deal, because they very much are a big deal, but they can be fixed.

You know what's a lot harder to fix? Being 18 and not knowing where your limits are because you never learned to test them. Being 24 and fighting obesity because you never developed a habit of physical activity. Being a parent and realizing that you have no idea what's safe and what isn't, because you were never allowed to do ANYTHING.

The postscript to my story above is that my daredevil daughter has actually never needed emergency care for any reason, and is very willing to holler for help when she needs it, btw.
posted by KathrynT at 9:31 PM on September 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

It's a very important task to help your kids develop a sense of autonomy, as well as to encourage them to be brave and feel that they are strong and capable within themselves; constantly keeping them out of situations disrupts this process to varying degrees.

Overprotected and yelled-at-for-doing-anything-at-all kids often transform into either highly anxious kids/teens/adults or extremely rebellious ones. If you allow them a little room but stay a strong and consistent support for them, they will learn a lot more from their own experiences and develop strong senses of how to make good choices for themselves, rather than (eventually, inevitably) starting to push back at your "don't do that!" just because they feel over-restricted, and get themselves potentially really hurt. Or rather than turning into little kiddos who can't handle the growing independence that their lives will ultimately demand as they become school-aged.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:40 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who has only one kid and loses it occasionally, I understand completely.

But then, I also am getting treatment for my over the top anxiety right now; it wasn't until I started treatment that I realized some of what I was feeling about him was not regular "mom fear" but related to a generalized anxiety about everything that made it hard to have perspective. No idea if any of that applies to you, but throwing it out there.
posted by emjaybee at 9:52 PM on September 18, 2011

Speaking as a high school teacher for students of all backgrounds, PLEASE don't yell and nag and pester your child constantly.

Save that for when they fail PE because they refuse to dress. Or another equally serious event. The kids I have who have over-protective/over-aggressive/over-anxious parents find it difficult to try if they know they will struggle at something (how many times have I had the conversation with a parent about a student refusing to hand in an essay that they're afraid they would just fail...sigh) or who have total meltdowns at some point when the pressure gets to be too much.

Listen to all the good advice in this thread. Good luck.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:52 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

One amazing thing about kids is that they bounce. I've seen kids fall, I've seen kids slam into things running at full speed, all kinds of things that, for most adults, would be injury inducing. A lot of kids will fall down, look around, and if they see an adult, cry. If there's no adult, they get back up and run around. It's part of their nature.

On the other hand, pain is a better teacher than a yelling mom. To some extent, you're there to take care of them after they sustain their boo-boos as much as you are to prevent them. I can't count the number of times my mother told me not to touch the hot iron, or the hot stove. The real reason I learned not to was that I was stupid, and touched it anyway. That moment of pain, and the burn that took a day or so to go away taught me more effectively than my screaming mom.

I'm not saying that you let your kids practice juggling with chainsaws, just that every once in a while, a bump on the noggin is a useful reminder that gravity is real, and from that, they'll start to form their own ideas of safe vs. unsafe. You'll be surprised that the ideas they come up with will probably pretty closer mirror your own, since, well, we're all human, and we all pretty much (within acceptable limits, and excepting some extreme outliers) have the same general ideas on safety.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:52 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

It is often more effective with little kids to whisper than to yell. They start listening to hear the words when you whisper. They only hear tone when you yell (and tune it right out).

Sometimes when my toddler is being too rowdy I just walk away and leave my husband to supervise, who, despite being an only when I'm one of four, just seems less able to anticipate the SIX MILLION HORRIBLE WAYS our child could be injured at any moment. Little kids DO need to roughhouse and rampage. But even though I'm a pretty relaxed mom, and eve though I roughhoused with my own siblings, sometimes I find it hard to watch. (When injuries actually occur, however, I much more, "Oh, it's fine, things bleed" and my husband is all "OMG BLOOD TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM BATMAN.")

I have found "Between Parent and Child" very helpful. One thing it coaches you on is not personalizing rules -- so not, "We don't jump on the bed" but "Beds are not for jumping. Beds are for sleeping." This seemed silly until I started doing it with my toddler, who ignores "we don't stand on chairs" because OBVIOUSLY he can TOTALLY stand on the chair (and/or I just issued him a challenge, apparently) but who totally gets "chairs are not for standing, chairs are for sitting" and recites it himself when he momentarily stands up on the chair and then sits his butt down. He also loves telling other people that chairs are not for standing, chairs are for sitting. (Like if, um, mom happens to, um, climb up a chair to reach the dining room light fixture ...) Another thing it's big on is not asking rhetorical questions ("Do you WANT to break your toys?") and instead to make simple cause-consequence statements ("If you bang the truck like that, it will break."). My husband asks rhetorical questions all the time and it totally spurs the toddler on as if we just suggested that as a good idea, or like he wants to test it. So try even the stuff that sounds dumb in these books like "123 Magic" and "Between Parent and Child" and "Happiest Toddler on the Block" and so on. A lot of it works. (Toddlers are not like us.)

Relatedly, a neighbor of mine is pretty restrictive and doesn't let her kid do much -- has a lot of fear, like you, that he will get hurt. I was one day planting out of a bag of sterilized topsoil when she and her son wandered over. While we were chatting, her son, who was maybe 3 at the time, grabbed a handful of dirt and was about to shove it in his mouth, when his mother saw him and ran SHRIEKING across the patio to swat his hand away. He spent the entire rest of the summer attempting to eat dirt because it was ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEED to get his mother's attention and to make her shout and yell and run and scream. Me, I would have let him eat the nice, clean, sterilized dirt (wincing all the while, of course) so he'd learn dirt tastes bad. Which in fact we did with our toddler when he tried it ... we winced horribly but let him shove a handful in. Then he started trying to scrape it all off his tongue and I went and got him a glass of water and helped him clean his mouth. Since he got no reaction and DIRT IS ICKY, that was the only time he tried to eat dirt. So at the very least, don't reinforce bad behavior with attention and excitement.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:21 PM on September 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

I've just spent long enough looking for a clip that I am going to be late for work, but no luck. There's a film with Susan Sarandon called The Stepmom with a scene that illustrates this well for me. The kid is up high on the jungle gym, waving at the mom and stepmom. The stepmom starts to freak out with "omg you will dieee", but is stilled by their mom, who is grinning hugely and waving back. As the camera gets closer we hear her muttering through the grin "oh please god don't fall, please don't fall". Spoiler: He does, busted wrist, but the waving and muttering is a great scene.
posted by Iteki at 10:34 PM on September 18, 2011

You need to calm down A LOT. Jumping on the bed is fun. If you freak out all the time about minor things, your kids won't pay attention to you, even if you are shouting about an actual danger.

Data point- my mother is a worrier and yelled at my siblings and I all the time. We ignored her.

My father yelled at us very rarely, and when he did, we listened.
posted by emd3737 at 10:41 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We had 3 kids in a 30 month span. One of the great lessons my parents taught me that I try to teach my kids is to make their own mistakes. If it wasn't serious like the car in the street examples above, they let us try a lot and determine for ourselves what was ok or not. The only rule we lived by was if either of my two brothers or I said to stop, we pretty much did if it was causing pain.

My three teenagers are all in high school now and they survived jumping on beds, actually jumping out of 2nd story windows into a snow bank (once until we found out), and all sorts of physical mayhem. Two if them play football and lacrosse so physical pain is not an issue.

From my parents, i look at my own kids and know that the broken arms,stitches, bumps and bruises, as well as failures of any kind means they are in the game trying and learning. I myself learned my best lessons from the mistakes and stitches than from my successes.

Calm down, let the everyday things be and save the yelling for either a real emergency or rooting for them playing sports.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:56 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's time for what Shamu can teach you, I think.
posted by zadcat at 10:58 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your question reminded me of a fairly recent New York Times article called "Can A Playground Be Too Safe?"

I think you'd enjoy reading it. It's about the idea that part of what children need to learn growing up is how to take risks and overcome fears.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:20 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Because I think it's a great article I will cut and paste some of the relevant text here:

"“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

...“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:24 PM on September 18, 2011

It doesn't really communicate "calm down" when you're antsy and excited and yelling. It's a lot like dogs, you know, when you start yelling at them to be quiet and stop barking, they don't get the intent, they go "Oh yay we are making noise now because making noise is fun and we are noise making buddies!" and get more excited and agitated and may even bark more.

The other thing is if they learn, for example, you will overreact and meltdown about them jumping on the bed, while they jump on the bed several times and never get hurt, they'll put the pieces together. So when they want to annoy you and make you spaz out, they'll start jumping on the bed just to get a reaction.

The final thing is fear of pain really can be disabling, especially if they don't get a lot of experience with it (and the best time to get that experience is when you're made of rubber and possess mutant healing abilities). I have a friend who lived all her life til she left the house under the shadow of "you'll get hurt! oh god!" so she's terrified of pain. Getting a splinter draws full-on tears and crying even when all you really need to do is get the tweezers and pull it out and clean it up some (and it would mostly stop the hurting). She puts off going to the dentist and doctor and whatnot until things are serious because whatever they do might hurt. She was having serious might-be-heart-problems chest pains but had to be dragged to the ER because she was terrified of how the IV needle might hurt.

And it's not just that those things may/can/do hurt to varying degrees, it's tied up with this massive ANXIETY DUMP from her mother screaming at her for years and years on end about how she might get hurt or it's going to hurt or I told you it'd hurt. And it's not just pain inflicted on her, it transitions to everyone. She was there when I was getting stitches for something and way more freaked out about it than I was because doesn't it hurt? Isn't it going to hurt? Oh god I bet that really hurts! (It was 2 stitches and the area was numb). The nursing staff spent more time calming her down than they did me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:34 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should take a weekend First Aid class if you have the time. The Red Cross offers them all over the place. It might help you evaluate what the real dangers are and be calmer about the rest of it. There can be a pretty big difference between the perceived risk and the actual risk involved in an activity. For example, I've had a lot of teachers who had worked as ambulance drivers, paramedics, and in search-and-rescue. One of the things they've impressed upon me is how hard it is, for example, to break someone's spine. It takes a really significant impact and/or some really serious torque apparently. Which means, say, that the likelihood of someone--even a small someone--paralyzing himself from falling off a bed is really low. Taking a bit of First Aid might help calm you down a bit, and it would also make you feel a bit more prepared if something did go wrong.

And when you're evaluating new situations--because it's nice to have house rules, but you've still got to make decisions on the fly a lot about murkier situations, and I agree that it's good not to yell at kids all the time, here's a rubric that might help. My first boss gave it to me.

First off, you've got to evaluate two main variables for any situation: how dangerous is the worst possible outcome? and how likely is that worst possible outcome? This gives you four possible combinations: Very Dangerous and Very Likely; Very Dangerous but Not Very Likely; Not Very Dangerous and Very Likely; and Not Very Dangerous and Not Very Likely.

Here's how you make decisions in those four scenarios.

Very Dangerous and Very Likely: Stop. Do not go forward; do not pass Go; do not let anyone else pass go. This is stuff like, should we let little Jimmy get out of the Safari car to pet the nice friendly lion? No. No you should not.

Very Dangerous and Not Very Likely: Maybe? Figure out if there are things you can do to mitigate the danger, and if so, go carefully forward. This is stuff like, do we cross this well-constructed footbridge over a very deep gorge with little Jimmy? If you do, he could possibly wander over to the edge, slip under the railing and topple over, but it's also easy to make it safer by holding onto his hand the whole time.

Not Very Dangerous and Very Likely: Probably? This is most likely a yes. This is stuff like, should we let him play with the Legos on the floor, even though it's really likely that at some point he's going to stand up and step--with stocking feet--on a Lego which can hurt like the dickens for 3 seconds? Yes.

Not Very Dangerous and Not Very Likely: Go. As close to an absolute yes as one ever gets, I think. These are the ones you often don't even think about in terms of risk assessment: letting him read on the couch, for example, because the worst that is going to happen is he gets a paper cut.

Anyway, it's been very helpful to me over the years. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.
posted by colfax at 11:46 PM on September 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Just to add a little to what other excellent commentators have said, I'll quote the sign that was posted on the wall of the nursery my kids attended when they were small:
You get the behaviour to pay attention to
Kids love to have their parents attention & will get it any way they can. The more emotionally exciting the attention the better! Yelling and getting excited about your kids running around the house is almost certainly encouraging them to do exactly that as much as possible.

It sounds like you need some ground rules on what does & doesn't constitute acceptable behaviour (and rolling around play-fighting is perfectly acceptable in our house so long as it isn't anywhere near anything dangerous: the kitchen is completely out of bounds for instance) and a way to police that which doesn't feed the behaviour you're trying to eliminate. 1-2-3 Magic usually works pretty well, but there are others.

The really hard part is being utterly consistent about it: kids will always test your boundaries, because they want to know where those boundaries are. Being a good parent means giving them clear, consistent boundaries that they can understand where the consequences for stepping over the line are proportionate & applied without drama. Ideally, the consequences are not 'punishments' for bad behaviour, they're simply the inevitable consequences of the choices your children make. This gives your children agency, but also lets them know that you're the one in charge, which is good because they need that security.
posted by pharm at 3:41 AM on September 19, 2011

Seconding 1-2-3 Magic.

I used to teach at an international preschool in Japan to a class of seven 3-4 year old boys who loved to beat the crap out of each other. They could barely understand what I was saying even if I was yelling at the top of my lungs. Which I was doing every day until I found this book. I'm going to use it when I have my own kid, without a doubt. It honestly works like magic.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 4:09 AM on September 19, 2011

My anxiety goes through the roof and I freak out whenever they...

The best explanation of anxiety I've seen comes from primatologist Robert Sapolsky, an expert on stress. He says that anxiety is seeing the danger, freaking out, getting past the danger, and then not being able to find the off switch for the stress. (I paraphrase, but that's the sense of it.)

Yes, kids do all kinds of crazy-looking stuff that's fear-inducing to onlookers. The only way I have found to get to my off switch is to accept that kids will horse around, some damage will be done, but that the chance of it being fatal is really pretty small, and that most of the injuries are going to pass with time and a little Mama love. Haven't been to the ER yet. There's a chance that we will, especially with my daredevil daughter, but the chance that the kjids will have fun, learn about consequences and figure out their bodies' limits outweighs it by far.

Ginott is right about un-personalizing rules: "Siblings are not for hitting. This pillow is for hitting" is a construction that has redirected bad energy more than once at my house. Reflecting back to my kids has worked: "You have a lot of energy! You want to jump on the bed, and that's fun!" acknowledges that your kids have reasons for this behavior, rather than telling them that they're misbehaving or are trying to make you angry. "The bed will break if you do that, and then you won't have a place to sleep" says that there is a consequence...even if it doesn't register right away. This has the lovely byproducts of making you look calm and forcing to to replace your anxiety with a concrete, logical outcome that you're working together to avoid.*

Recognize that sometimes (but very few times) this is not going to work, and there will be tears. Running to Mama to feel better is also a normal part of being a small child. And they're a lot tougher and more resilient than you may think...especially when you help them find ways to practice.

This is a tough stage and you're going to get through it, all of you. Good luck!

* At my house: "Honey, you can go feed the [close to 175-lb.] pigs, just remember that they have teeth now. Pat their backs and stay away from their mouths so you don't get bitten."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:45 AM on September 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

P.S. A few more ideas from Haim Ginott's "Between Parent and Child." Without this thread, I might not have found this quotation from Ginott:

"I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized."

--Between Teacher and Child
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:20 AM on September 19, 2011

Let them get a little hurt. It's fine.

If you catch yourself freaking out, give yourself a time-out and then come back and explain to your kids that you know it's silly to get so scared, but moms always worry about their kids, and you're working on not worrying so much. If you're open about this to your kids, they'll understand that they're not doing anything wrong by roughhousing a little. And I think it's always good for kids to see that even grownups work on improving their behavior.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:44 AM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!

There is also a book. I suggest you get it and read it to them over and over.

It may not sink in at first, but eventually you might catch them telling another little kid not to do it. Plus, it might give you all a much needed giggle.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:05 AM on September 19, 2011

I grew up with a yelling mum. :)...but also :(

Because the yelling over small kiddie things (such as playing on the bed) escalated to many other things - basically whenever she felt concerned about me, or wanted me to stop doing something no matter how trivial. It took me a few years of collegiate therapy to REALIZE that though, as I ended up developing an anxiety disorder while growing up. Not saying that you will send your children to therapy!! But simply a data point about how far you could potentially let yourself go.

I will pitch my 2 cents into the "relax" bin.
posted by Ashen at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2011

Just a little data for you here (or, rather, information about data I've seen, not the data itself):

I do child protection work. We often hear innocent explanations-"he fell of the couch"-for pretty significant injuries, like broken bones, in children. A training I was at referenced a study conducted with hospitalized children in Australia who had fallen from the (high) hospital beds to hard hospital floors. A few kids ended up with broken collar bones, but there were no serious injuries other than that.

And the concept that felt like a light bulb moment to me: The doctor we work with most often asked once: "Have you ever fallen out of bed? Off the couch? Did you get hurt? No....and how does a child's mass compare to yours?".

I was walking with my two year old this morning, and he fell full faced onto packed earth about four times in ten minutes. If I fell like that, I'd be battered and bruised, and have the wind knocked out of me. He didn't even stop jabbering, just picked himself up and trotted on.

Keep breathing, and maybe hang out some with parents you trust who have a calmer attitude than you do, or wilder kids. Some of that can start resetting your sense of normal a bit.
posted by purenitrous at 1:27 PM on September 19, 2011

Hi there, I'm the kid who split her head open jumping on the bed. My cousin? She's the one who broke her arm jumping on a different bed.

Jumping on the bed can be very dangerous. Maybe I'm a bad parent but I lose it when my kids are doing something where I know they could get hurt too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:12 PM on September 19, 2011

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