So here’s the deal. Protective parents get a bad rap. At playgrounds and in other shared common spaces, my kids aren’t allowed to play with sticks. I know that makes some folks uncomfortable. My kids are also not permitted to play with children who are wielding sticks. Here’s why. Children, love them though I do, posses very little common sense. So today, when a little girl hunked a stick through the air at my son’s face and split his lip, I was upset. My son was not the stick wielder. He was playing super hero and using his hands as his super power. She took things to the next level and started using sticks as her super power. It’s aways awkward. I am the parent that says, categorically, no sticks. Not because I am “afraid of nature” as one blogger wrote. Not even because I am afraid of a scratch or a bruise. But because sticks can cause serious, permanent injury. And because children are dumb (no offense, 4 year olds), I don’t trust them to make reasonable decisions. I don’t trust my son with a stick, and I don’t trust your son. Or daughter. Not if they are under 5.
At the time that this little girl sent her stick hurtling through the air at my son’s face, I am sure it seemed to her like a reasonable thing to do. She was just playing, after all. She was using her super power!
Many would tout the creativeness of it–her right to enjoy nature, and to learn from her mistakes. In fact, I was in the company of quite a few who do tow that line. I would ask, though, if their position might differ if it were their child with the split lip. One parent asked me if the injury was a deliberate thing on the part of the aggressor, or an accident, as if that had any impact on the aftermath. Intentions, especially with children, are almost always good. And even if a child is *not* well intentioned, even if they do mean to cause harm, they never understand the extent of the potential harm they could inflict. That is an awful lot of leeway and a very big risk to take when we allow our children to play with sticks. They cannot grasp the harm they can inflict, so they have no reason to be cautious. Not only do children have poor impulse and motor control, they lack the emotional regulation that adults (in theory) have. A friendly game of …anything can quickly turn sour and often does with kids. Add sticks to the mix? Not a great idea.
The problem is that accident or no, a two inch difference would have been my son’s eye. GOD FORBID.
For the record, I also don’t let my children climb dressers or roughhouse around the tv (un-anchored). They are not permitted to mess around near the stove when I am cooking, I don’t let them run near pools, I make them tie their shoes. I don’t let them wear crocs to preschool, I make them hold hands crossing the street, and I make them sit when they eat, and I never leave them alone in a bathtub. They are never allowed to jump on the bed. I cook my food on the back burner. I take reasonable precautions as a reasonable parent. And the reason is that children often exhibit poor judgement.
Some have posited that a child will always be afraid of sticks, or never learn how to use them responsibly if they aren’t allowed to play with them. That is utterly absurd. My son may actually be one of the few in the yard who understands that he could hurt someone with them. That’s because I told him that. So he doesn’t use sticks as play things around other kids, because he would never want to hurt someone. He knows how easily and quickly an accident can happen. And the safety of his friends is more important to him than running around waiving a stick. When he plays alone he uses sticks to dig, and as imaginary props. And he has no interest in hitting people with them.
It is OK to have rules, and to expect children to follow them. It is OK to assume that the responsibility of safely handling a stick in a posse of unruly children is more than most 4 year olds can handle. And it doesn’t mean I have an irrational fear of injury. Under my supervision, my children use sharp knives to cut veggies, they pull up chairs and cook scrambled eggs on their own. They walk our dog. It’s often my kids who are covered in mud or splashing in puddles, picking up bugs and taking “nature hikes”. We say yes to many things, using a standard of reasonable safety. Allowing children free reign with sticks in the name of freedom, and accompanied by the assumption or aspiration that they will make reasonable decisions is an enormous and irrational leap of faith. And in this particular instance, that misplaced faith resulted in what could have been a permanent injury to my little guy. As a parent, I think all children have the right to operate safely in the world amongst their peers. So I will never let my kids run around pointing sticks at each other. After all, the kids being chased are people too. It is my job to protect all kids. Not just mine. And I will never experiment with my son’s decision making skills if it puts your kid at risk. So that’s why I say, no sticks.