Making a Big Deal (When is the time?)


One of my favorite things to do when I take my kids to the playground is to find a bench and sit on it. They often clamor to be pushed on the swings, but I try to disengage myself as much as I can from their play and allow them the room to climb, fall, figure out pumping their legs (!) and be brave on their own.

Yesterday, while I looked on from my perch, I watched my 17 month old climb the steps on the jungle gym so that she could go down the biggest (and coincidentally slowest) slide. On the way up to the top, she passed two cut outs in the railing that allow kids access to a ladder and a firefighter’s pole. The top one is pretty high up and instinctively, I wanted to warn her away from it. Like most parents, I want my kids to break as few bones as possible in their lives, so why not keep my kiddo from getting up so high?

As I sat there and watched her climb and walk past the cut out safely a handful of times, I wrestled with whether or not to say anything. I finally came to the conclusion that calling her attention to it now was not the right move. She was acting safely and me calling on her to be even “more safe” or more attentive would likely backfire. By making a big deal of this, I was afraid that she would start to climb up and then stand, gleefully close to the edge when she got to the top; forgetting about the slide altogether, just wanting to see the panicked look on my face as she played with fire gravity.

There are plenty of times for us parents to make a big deal out of something. Some safety issues are non-negotiable.

  • Holding hands when crossing the street. Big deal!
  • Running away from a parent in public. Big deal!
  • Teaching our kids not to play with poop. Big deal!

But other situations fall into a gray area.

  • Your kids hearing curse words?
  • Climbing up the slide while somebody else slides down?
  • Trying to use a knife to cut their food?
  • Farting in front of folks?

Sometimes when we make too much of a big deal over something, we don’t allow our kids the freedom to make their own mistakes. Or we call attention to something being right or wrong (or safe or dangerous) when they didn’t know (or need to know) that distinction yet. How do kids learn that curse words are taboo anyhow? Because of how we react to them! Making a big deal out of something can cause unneeded embarrassment, censorship and sometimes a basis for judging others.

I can remember times in elementary school when a kid would say or do something that other kids thought was weird or gross and the “Ews!!!!!” and “Oooohs!!!” that ensued were stifling.  Those big deals shape our behaviors as we grow and learn.

And while I don’t necessarily want my kids to yell “Butt!” in front of company, I don’t want to make a big deal of too many things. That way when something really is a BIG DEAL, they’ll know it for sure.


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