Good Things Come from Skinned Knees

By Teacher Anette

At the September General Meeting, we spent time discussing how kids’ reactions are often reflections of adults’ reactions. For example, when a child trips and falls, a common adult reaction is to gasp, call out and rush in to comfort them. We are often fixated on the fixing. The child tends to respond with cries and tears not necessarily proportional to the injury but more to the adult’s response. My challenge to the adult is to instead pause and wait to see how the child responds to the fall. Avoid the panicked “Oh, no!!” and “Are you okay?!?!!” and instead wait to see how s/he processes the fall. Then ask, “Hmm. How was that?“ or “What do you think—was that a surprise?” It’s a subtle way to demonstrate to the child that falls happen, we get it cuz they’d happened to us, and falls aren’t the end of the world. It teaches grit.

All learning involves risk. I believe it’s important that we provide opportunities for safe risk-taking—not an oxymoron— both in terms of physical and social exchanges. Children need to take chances because through risk-taking experiences kids learn to match their skills to the demands of the task. It’s part of the learning process. Mistakes are welcome because they are inherent to the inquiry process and valued for the knowledge they provide. Risk is not to be confused with hazard. I like to offer safe risks at school by providing experiences kids perceive as containing elements of risk but in reality are still safe in nature. The neurological feedback children gain from the trial and error of risk-taking enables them to develop the precursor skills in their brains that lead to better risk assessment as adults. It teaches grit.

We teach at Portland Tillamook Preschool that children are more than capable of directing the course of their morning within safe, reasonable parameters. We need to likewise give them the emotional space they need to gauge their reactions to risks and falls. Therefore, why not wait and let the child make the first wail? It is not an act of callousness to not be the immediate responder. Without a doubt we will know pretty quickly how scary a climb is or how bad a fall felt. In mere seconds we will know precisely what direction our comfort and first-aid need to take. (Please remember that even if s/he shakes it off with no tears or drama, it’s still important to check out the hands or knees (or whatever) to both acknowledge that owies also happen and whether something more serious needs to be cleaned up and bandaged.) Resilience. Grit. Whatever you want to call it—good things come from skinned knees.