A little boy glanced at me from across the playground. Both his hands were on a big green post. He took his first steps to climb down off of a small tower as our eyes met. I saw one hand flutter, a tiny wiggle in his body, some small unsteadiness. He looked away, carefully steadied himself, took three backward steps down, slid to his belly and scooted safely to the ground. Not once looking back to me, or anyone, this toddler continued on his solo adventure of exploring the pinecones and playground.

One of our 5-year-old girls loves climbing the trees in our mini nature playscape. Last week she scurried like a squirrel higher than ever. The other kids were amazed; the adults all took deep breaths. As she started down we could see her legs shake a bit, a little quiver, a bit of unsteadiness. I calmly called up to her. “Your legs look like they need a rest after climbing so high. Do you need to steady yourself?” She moved to a thick branch, sat down and steadied herself before easily climbing down the rest of the way.

I’ve been thinking about how at all ages we steady ourselves—to prepare for change, recover from fear or uncertainty, and get physically and psychologically ready for a risky challenge.

There is so much in life that throws us off balance. How do you steady yourself? I think we find ways to cope with serious adult challenges because we first found ways to cope and gain confidence with all the small daily physical and emotional challenges as children.

We alone find our way to be steady, create our own steadiness and steadfastness. No one else can do that for us. We can only understand and know how to return to steadiness through experience and practice.

The little guy in the playground story was practicing. The tower is a new challenge. His hands are small, and one lost the grip on that big post. He felt a moment of insecurity, but needed no help in regaining his steadiness. Sliding down to his belly was a practiced skill that he knew would easily move him to solid ground. Five minutes of experiential learning that would not have happened if an adult had been hovering over him, if I had yelled over when he looked at me, “Are you ok?” or “What’s wrong!” or ran to direct him down off the little tower.

Our last meet-up group was all about current challenges and concerns. Many exhausted mothers of toddlers were wondering how to “let go.” They were starting to feel that, because they worried so much and couldn’t relax, their children would search their faces and look for their reaction to know if they were okay after a tumble or a bump. Sometimes the kids wouldn’t leave their moms’ laps and just go play. The moms felt a real confusion over how safe they could keep their children—and even if it was their job to always keep them perfectly safe. Are they only “good moms” if they watch and control every movement their kids make? Were they creating obstacles to independent, confident kids every time they said, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” Could they be strong enough to sit here talking and let their kids go off and explore in this safely fenced small playground? They were all feeling just as shaky as the little guy on the tower.

For the moms talking it out with me, sharing experiences and taking into consideration an understanding of developmental needs and risk assessment all moved them to a more steady position. They left with a willingness to trust that experience is the best teacher, and with an action plan to allow their kids many more opportunities to learn how to steady themselves.

That’s how it works: we trust our children and ourselves and, bit by bit, find our way to steady.

© Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012
Photo © Callie Anderson and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012