Climbing Up and Falling Down

I believe that kids and nature belong together, so I encourage my children to play daily outside, exploring their backyard and the natural elements in it.  I believe that tree climbing is one of childhood’s greatest joys.  I believe that happy kids require both freedom and boundaries.  I believe children’s environments should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible.  And I believe that falling down is a normal part of an active childhood.


Yesterday afternoon, my 5 year old fell out of her favourite climbing tree.  I was out in the backyard with the kids, saw her fall, and was by her side within seconds. She lost consciousness and suffered an impact seizure, which was scary for both of us. This type of seizure can occur with a concussive brain injury and happens just seconds after impact.  When she came to, she was understandably frightened and confused.

The emergency department of our local hospital saw her immediately.  (I am so grateful for the way Australian medical professionals prioritise children.)  Although shaken, and very overwhelmed by the sights and smells of a hospital – she was alert and cooperative.  I cuddled and reassured her, talked her through what was happening, and stayed as calm as I could.  She was closely monitored for the first hour or two, then checked hourly until the recommended 6hrs had passed.  She was back to her usual self in a few hours though, and spent the last part of her hospital visit bored out of her little brain!

During those six hours at her bedside, I had plenty of time to think about my parenting choices. Could I have prevented her fall? Should I have prevented her fall? Was I doing the right thing allowing her to climb trees? Would I still encourage her to take reasonable risks?  Would I change any of my beliefs about children and nature…?

The doctors helped me to retain a commonsense view.  One doctor reminded me that she could have fallen anywhere… inside or out.  Another laughed about his own tree climbing adventures as a child, and reminisced about the way his mother handled it when he fell.  When we were finally discharged at 10pm, he also encouraged Miss 5 to keep climbing and exploring the world.

Today, she is at home enjoying a quiet day under Mummy’s watchful eye.  Tomorrow, she’ll be back at school with a great story to tell.  Next week, she’ll probably be back up the tree! And me?  I guess I’m a little shaken too.  No parent ever likes to see their child hurt.  There is a little part of my mama-heart that wishes I could wrap my kids up and hold them close to keep them safe.  There is a much bigger part of my mama-brain though that reminds me I cannot parent out of fear, and I cannot protect them from all of life’s falls.

And so, I STILL believe that kids and nature belong together, and I will continue to encourage my children to play daily outside, exploring their backyard and the natural elements in it.  I still believe that tree climbing is one of childhood’s greatest joys.  I still believe that happy kids require both freedom and boundaries.  I still believe children’s environments should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible.  And I still believe that falling down is a normal part of an active childhood.

39 thoughts on “Climbing Up and Falling Down

  1. Oh Cath, how frightening for you both! I’m so glad she’s Ok. You are a wonderful mother and it’s encouraging and helpful to see you be so balanced about life’s moments. xx

  2. Oh poor Lil. That MOPS when you were away sick, (when the nice ambo man came), our table talked about this exact thing. My boys also like to climb trees, and the only restriction I place on them, is that I must be there near them when they climb. (IMO) tree climbing is a part of being a kid. I’d rather them explore and learn how to handle themselves if they get stuck or fall than never to have the fun and enjoyment of being a kid. I’m so sorry that Lil got hurt, and it must have been so scary, but remember you are an awesome Mum and such an amazing person. I say, let them be kids, just be there for them when they need you. xoxoxo

  3. Thank you. You’ve encouraged me in the beliefs and values that both I and my husband share. I hope your little girl feels back to her normal self soon. :)

  4. So glad that she’s ok, and you as well. We’ve had some tree climbing incidents/falls here and with neighbourhood children too but I also agree with letting children have fun and exploring but with some boundaries. And they learn from it – the local children now know not to tie up tarpaulins/shade cloth to trees and slide on them! It’s amazing how fast they bounce back too!

  5. Learning about our world through exploration is so important. Climbing trees is just one part of this. They will fall and hurt themselves anywhere – let go of the mummy guilt that comes so automatically to all of us :)

    Lenore Skenazy’s work in this area is so important – maybe she’d like to feature this on her Free Range Kids site?

  6. I’m sorry your little girl had a fall, that must have been very scary for you at the time. Glad she is ok though. I admire your outlook and think you have raised some very good points, when there are so many rules and contrictions these days, especially at playgrounds etc. I’m a bit of a worrier so I sometimes cringe when I see my kids climbing and hanging from branches, but they often surprise me with their physical abilities, and I love to see the sense of confidence they get from physically challenging themselves, so I stand back and let them go with a few pointers and a little guidance. I agree with you that kids do need some freedom in order to learn and grow, and sometimes accidents happen even when you are being as careful as can be anyway.

  7. I’m glad to hear she’s okay and it’s great to hear reassuring words from the doctors. I know when I was a child, I did climb some trees but I was not as adventurous as my brother. I was a bit of a ‘scaredy cat’. Sure he had a few more broken arms than I ever got but I always wished I was more adventurous. I hope your daughter keeps that spirit and isn’t too afraid to climb back up a tree, when she’s ready to :-)

  8. it’s my sports-mad son’s 6th bday tomorrow and he is hanging out for a scooter ramp and a skate board – we got mini versions of both and as much as I hate the idea – he will get some bumps and bruises, and maybe even a break… but he is good at these things and they bring him joy and self-confidence – and they are outdoor based, not computer oriented – but he is definitely gonna wear his helmet and elbow/knee pads… or it’s all going in the shed! (for a little while at least)

    SOOOO glad your precious girl is OK, hope mummy recovers quickly too :)

  9. You are braver than I. I really don’t know how I’d cope in that situation and it sounds like you did marvelously as a mother.
    I guess your daughter will return to the tree and to climbing when she is ready and has regained her confidence. I know I sometimes parent out of fear but I do believe that we also need to let our kids trust their bodies and instincts too.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. What a scary time for both of you.

    I still get amazed that we live in a society where exploring and climbing is discouraged. It’s almost like tree-climbing has become a lost art just in one generation! I love letting my kids explore, and as hard as it is to see them get hurt, it’s also so important for them in so many ways, as you’ve pointed out. So glad your daughter is ok.

  11. How frightening for you both. I’m so pleased to hear that your little one is ok. I would be hesitant too if it were me in your situation but I agree that it is important for kids to get back outdoors and keep exploring. I really especially like how you wrote “I still believe children’s environments should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible”.

  12. glad shes ok and that you have this balanced (perhaps the wrong word in this context) approach to it

    A great book that you/your readers may like is

    “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel

    See here for more info ://www.amazon.com/Blessing-Skinned-Knee-Teachings-Self-Reliant/dp/0142196002

    I know a seizure/concussion is a little more serious and scary than a skun knee (my eldest had a seizure not long after birth in my arms after first breastfeed so I KNOW how scary it can be to witness) but I think the philosophy of this book is the same as where you are at.

    I have a huge interest in Resilience and love the movement back towards some calculated risks in kids rather than all this safety safety overprotection that I feel cripples our kids.

    Yet if I was totally honest I fight the natural urge to cotton wool and struggle for that balance daily too. It is one thing to think it and believe it and another to put it into practice in real life day to day on the run.

    Anyway passing it this great book on in case interested.

    Michele

  13. What a fright for both of you. I’m glad your daughter is okay. But the doctor who reminded you that she could’ve fallen anywhere is so right. Trees, steps, playground, rolling off the bed…hazards are everywhere, accidents do happen. That’s just life, isn’t it? xx

  14. It’s always a horrendous experience being in hospital – no matter how much of it is just a precaution! Glad that you are both ok and it didn’t change any of your beliefs because it’s such a gift you are giving your children.

  15. Oh dear, I am feeling for you both!!

    We had a crash recently that’s resulted in a trip to the ER and a scare on my not quite 3yo’s forehead, it looks like a dimple. He has made me quite an anxious parent in this respect because he falls a lot and doesn’t make as great choices as his big sister did in the climbing arena. Got another huge egg on his head last week that had me considering a trip. It is hard when it feels like the crashes are more the norm than an exception, less like “it can’t be helped” and more like- OMG if I don’t stop him he is truly gonna die one day. I “bench” him around camp fires etc and really want to helicopter him. I am hoping he gets better in time. Sorry to comment so much about myself, I just expend a lot of emotional energy at the moment of the kind you faced after the stack!

  16. You are both very brave. I often wonder if I am not doing enough to get my kids outside and fit…growing up overweight and sluggish would be a danger I fear more than skinned knees. A fall like your daughter had would shake me hard though. Thank you for sharing your experience and thought process!

  17. Thank you so much for sharing. It is hard to balance our beliefs with the reality of them. Your daughter will have more than just a great story when she goes back to school, she will have a greater awareness of her self and this is something that can’t be just taught, but needs experience.

  18. Wow that sounds like a scary moment Cath. I’m so glad she is OK. I really need to work on minimising the cotton wool myself. I’m one off those way to protective mothers.

  19. I am so glad to hear that your little one is a o.k!

    I agree tree climbing is one of a child’s greatest joy!

    During our prep orientations we had recently I was shocked to hear that the kids would be disciplined for climbing trees in the school yard! They aren’t doing anything wrong though. They are just exploring the natural environment…

  20. oh how scary for you guys!

    As much as we want to wrap those we love in cotton wool and always keep them safe we just can’t. Life would be do boring if we did. And that great Dr is right, it could have happened anywhere. My girl knocked out three teeth and smashed up her pallet at the very dangerous library, but we’ve not stopped borrowing books!
    You are a wise and wonderful mum and your kids are so lucky to have you!

  21. Gosh, what a frightening experience for you all, but I wholeheartedly agree, children need to learn independance and have the opportunity to climb trees and have adventures!

  22. Thanks for sharing this. My daughter broke her arm when she was 18 months. She was playing outside in her house, and I was washing the window, and she came running out to see what I was doing, tripped over the garden hose, and fell on the flat deck, but managed to break her little arm. I felt so guilty at first… thinking I should have been watching her more carefully, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought these things can happen at any time, anywhere, and I was standing right beside her when it happened. I still let her play in her house in our fenced in yard on her own. I am watching her, but not hovering. I think there are lots of missed moments for independent learning when parents constantly interfere with play.

  23. Glad to hear that your little one is OK. As someone who has seen the inside of the ER on more than one occasion I can understand the fear you are no doubt experiencing.

    It can be hard taking a big, deep breath and letting your little ones go back to exploring the world. Good on you. Every time I see the Munchkin taking risks, those fears arise, bit I remind myself – what’s the worst that can happen? A broken bone here. A scar there. Tiny things in the scheme of life.

    Hope to see you back on that horse (tree) again soon young lady. We need brave girls like you in the world.

  24. How scary for both of you! I’m so glad she’s doing just fine and I hope she does get back up a tree soon. I love your attitude about the situation… it’s one I try to adopt too. It’s hard sometimes to resist the urge to wrap your kids up in bubble wrap, but they need that freedom to explore and also fall down then get back up again.

    And honestly, you can’t protect your kids from everything. My oldest broke her leg after falling off of our dining room chair when she was 3. All the safety precautions in the world couldn’t have stopped that!

  25. What a scary experience for you both! Thank you for sharing. Your strength of conviction in light of this experience has helped support my own.

    Earlier this summer, my 6-year-old refused to wear shoes while playing in a dry creek bed. Near the end of our fun, he stepped on a bee and was stung. For an instant, I wish I’d forced him to wear shoes, so he wouldn’t have been hurt. But I realized that this was a lesson he won’t forget anytime soon. And that’s an important part of life.

  26. So glad your daughter is ok. My little man is only 10 months old but already taking after his dad with his adventurous spirit. I hope I’ll be brave like you. BTW this reminded me of all the stories my grandma told about my uncles falling out of trees etc while exploring, and how one of my uncles was at the hospital getting stitched up/bones reset so much he decided to go into medicine and is now an ER dr himself.

  27. I’m glad you are all ok, and pleased you had the strength to not only see the message in this but to share it.
    Kids deserve some independance and room to make (little) mistakes, learn and move on.
    Plus, climbing trees is fun!

  28. Oh Hun, that must have been so scarey for you both. I can’t image the fear that went through you during that moment she was unconcious.

    I really hope this little fall doesn’t impact her love of climbing trees but I’m sure with a mummy like you she will be back up the trunk in no time!

  29. What a scary experience! I tend to be a little to overprotective but reading your post has made me realise I should allow them to explore a little more. I grew up being allowed to do this in the country but in the city I find it hard to let then out of my sight.

  30. How scary Cath! So glad she is okay. What a beautiful photo of your daughter up in the tree. Here’s to more climing and adventuring!

  31. I was an avid climber and jumper from heights I climbed as a child. I always got in so much trouble whenever Mom heard my plop. She even had a minister come to talk me out of climbing and jumping because they thought I would get seriously hurt and it was unladylike…
    I am so happy so see a Mom support a child’s love of climbing.

  32. Hi

    So glad to hear that your little nature girl is doing well after her fall…hope she climbs that tree again soon and gives it a big hug…

    I encourage my little adventurer to climb, climb climb!! I am such a naughty mum!!! but then how else will they learn??

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