Another Climbing Incident: Why Don’t We Let Boys Be…Not Boys, but Human

I’ve already explained in my climbing/trust post how, as a rule, I let my daughter climb and don’t help her down or up when climbing.

Well, today my daughter easily climbed up a big, fake mountain of rock, easily the height of that scary merry-go-round tree structure from my experience explained in that earlier post. At the top, she sat for while. I noticed that after the initial “I’m at the top” face, came a look down and a “I don’t want to get down” face. She said as much to me when she said “Help me get down!”

Now don’t you know some other little girl, a few years older at about 5 or so, climbed up and sat next to her and also was afraid to come down. Her family members were going to climb up there when they heard me tell my daughter, “I know you may be feeling scared, but if you got up there then you need to come down on your own.” The little girl’s help climbed down and said, “She’s right. You can climb down on your own. You need to figure it out.” So the little girl’s grandmother directed her what to do and where to go, and down came the little girl, leaving my daughter sitting there by herself.

“Help me!” came her shout as I wavered inside but not outside. “It is important that you get down on your own, my love. Trust your body. It knows what to do.” She started to get down, instinctively turning around and scrunching her body so she was more balanced. She stopped her descent and went back to sitting.

I saw her up there, looking more scared, so I said, “Sometimes climbing down can feel scary, huh? What can we do when we’re feeling scared?” She looked at me for a minute. “Are you breathing?” I asked. She nodded, calming herself down.

I told her she could take her shoes off if she felt that would help. She did. It did help.

After gathering her breath and her bravery, she ended up turning around and climbing down with some guidance from me about possible options when she got stuck or was headed towards a place with a big drop and no footholds.

When she got down, her face beamed with relief and pride. “I did it!” she said to me, more than once. This was clearly a feat for her. She had conquered her fear.

Not much later, though, came a boy, older than both girls, who climbed up less than halfway and stalled. An adult male he knew had climbed to the top and others were down on the ground. He began to doubt himself and expressed that. The man from above began taunting him about how this girl (another girl had climbed to the top in the meantime) could climb up and why couldn’t he do it. The boy continued to hold on, growing in fear. The other males said common phrases like “Be tough” told him to stop being scared. The little boy finally lost it and was crying in complete fear begging for someone to help him down. One of the adults (his dad?) picked him off of the “mountain” and put him down.

The whole event struck me. First, my daughter, who had just climbed this thing, was watching intently with a puzzled look on her face. Second, it was clear to me that this boy had every capability of climbing up and back down on his own. Finally, I felt saddened that this boy had his gender thrown in his face (and girls backhandedly complimented/insulted), his feelings denied and his potential to have a similar experience to my daughter’s (that pride, that relief) thwarted.

I can’t say what this boy needed in that moment, but I do believe he needed some support and care and, more than anything, empathy. I don’t think there is anything special about my daughter, but I have worked to give her the space to learn about her body and her mind and what they can do.

We are powerful beings, capable of great things no matter how big or small. We can only know that inasmuch as we have space to learn that for ourselves. Other people can work hard to build us up, but only we can truly put ourselves at the top….

My 2.5 yo daughter: The Climber

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cat on August 19, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I agree. I spot my kids (they just turned three years old) and will point out footholds, but they do their own climbing. It’s too important for their own confidence, strength and coordination for me to intervene and do it for them.


    • Yes, Cat, I do feel it is important for her. I admit, however, that I do it more because it is important for me. At some point, she will be by herself and without me. I need to know she can trust her body, that she has a body knowing of her own. I can’t know that if I keep interfering. I’m sure your children exhibit their own body wisdom, due to your willingness to give them the space to grow and learn. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share with me. ~sheila


  2. Posted by The Accidental Housewife on August 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I teach my girls to climb the same way my mum taught me (we’re a rock climbing family.)

    The first time, we do it together – she climbs herself, but I’m behind her, one hand on her harness or trousers, so she can feel I’m there. But I don’t actually provide any impetus. I just give her the confidence that she can mess up, and will still be safe. If she asks, I will give her advice on holds and foot placement, and also move her feet if she needs it when she’s descending if she’s not abseiling.

    The second time, I’m a bit below her – she climbs alone, but if she falls she won’t fall far. I don’t give her advice unless she’s totally stuck.

    The third time, she’s on her own. I stand at the bottom.

    My eldest is three, and this technique seems to have worked as well with her as it did with me. She’s very competent and confident for her age, aware of her limitations but still willing to trust her mama and give anything a try.


    • My daughter loves climbing rock walls! I admit I have not done any rockclimbing. I’m more of a rock jumper, so to speak, in the river more like. I love your (mom’s) approach. Seems a solid one for safety, confidence and skill building. Thank you so much for sharing those insights. ~sheila


  3. Posted by Katie L. on August 20, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I love how steady and steadfast you are in your parenting challenges. It is very inspiring.


    • Those are kind words, Katie. I assure you I do not feel steady and steadfast. I am grateful that my journey provides inspiration to others, however. Thanks for that feedback. ~sheila


  4. I love how you are all building and nurturing trust in your children. I can share a Montessorian’s perspective, if I may. Clothing can be an obstacle to free movement too. We ask the parents of our toddlers and primary children to be sure their children’s shoes fit and stay securely on their feet. Flip-flops, crocs and other kinds of backless shoes are discouraged. It’s hard to run and climb in them. We encourage “work clothes” for active children. Children who are appropriately dressed for the activity in which they are engaged will have less difficulty and be safer. Our busy classrooms require that children move gracefully around rugs and furniture. Control of their bodies is important inside as well as outside.


    • Thanks so much, Marianne, for stopping by to read and comment, particularly for sharing your unique perspective. Yes, I have so far avoided shoes that are not helpful, though I admit eyeing another child’s crocs in the water play sometimes. The one situation it’s hard to have the “right” shoes for is when we wear boots (in the picture) for stomping in puddles, but then we discover a cool place to climb. She’s got a lot of balance, so I figure once in a while it’s a challenge. Other than that, honestly we are shoeless much of the time. That’s why I asked her to take her shoes off if she thought it would be easier, even though her shoes can be climbed in. I know I was barefoot my childhood, even walking daily down a gravel road (long ways!). I think I was like that because I needed my body to be free. Part of what you say about clothing comes up a lot because she’s a girl and some folks (grandmothers mostly) want to see her cute-ified in pretty dresses. I keep telling them we don’t wear them because they are not play ready. They keep coming…

      But YES. Children do need control of their bodies, and I love the wisdom you share about how it “is important inside as well as outside.”

      Thanks again for the comment!


  5. You inspire me, Sheila.


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