Why do kids eat mud? Maybe because they’re potential geniuses… Bear with me.
I’m a firm believer that kids have to get things wrong before they get them right. Every mistake we make is a learning opportunity, even as adults. In December it’s usually too cold to go out without a coat on. What’s the best way to learn that lesson? Go out in December without a coat on; you’d probably never do it again.
Mud tastes disgusting. But you’d only really know that if you’ve ever tried to eat some. As adults we have a blueprint of the world that we base all our decisions on, but kids are still compiling theirs. Until it’s complete (which, let’s face it, will be never because it never can be), they are supposed to blindly trust what we tell them, and up to a point they do (until they start catching us out in blatant lies, that is).
Human beings are naturally curious and inquisitive, it’s how we’ve evolved and developed as far as we have today. Someone had to try all the mushrooms first to see which were bad, which were good, and which were really good. 😉 Imagine if no one had been curious enough to try all those mushrooms.
Part of our job as Mums is to protect our kids. But what if by protecting them too much we’re actually shielding them from important life lessons (like don’t eat mud because it’s rank)? And what if, actually, the best way to protect them is to let them loose in the big scary world to discover things for themselves? I don’t believe that my sole purpose, or most important job, as a Mum is to protect my kids; I believe that the most important thing that I can do for them is to give them the basic tools they need to protect themselves.
I’m talking about things like resilience, strength of character, a moral code, imagination, empathy, and the ability to admit when you’re wrong and learn from it. I will always remember the first time my Mum let me stay out past 7pm. I was going to my boyfriend’s house, my curfew was 10pm, and I’d have to get a bus there and back. I was about 13, and my Mum could have quite easily shielded me from the horrors of the post-watershed world (seriously, it’s really not that bad) but instead she gave me a tin of baked beans in a plastic carrier bag. She told me that I was not to let this carrier bag out of my sight for even a second, and that if I ever needed it, it might just save my life.
“If anyone asks you why you’re carrying a tin of baked beans, you just tell them your Mum asked you to bring some home for breakfast.” She told me. “BUT, if you think you are in danger at any point, you swing that bag as hard as you can, scream as loud as you can, and run as fast as you can.”
Alright, so my Mum gave me an actual tool with which to protect myself, but my point is that she let me go out. She made sure I was aware of the potential dangers in the big bad night-time world, she filled my head with the knowledge I’d need to handle those situations, and then she let me out there to find out for myself. I never had to use my beans, but I learned three things that night.
- I wasn’t as hard as I thought I was (because the dark is scary when you’re 13 and on your own)
- Buses are strange places at 10pm
- The best way to handle embarrassment is with humour (imagine trying to explain to your first boyfriend why you’ve turned up at his house with baked bloody beans). Oh, and sometimes my Mum was actually right.
I’m not saying we should start letting our five-year-olds go off on their jollies with tins of baked beans, but I am saying that sometimes the best way to protect our kids from danger is to let them experience it. Climbing on stuff always runs a risk of falling, but kids won’t really care until they actually fall. Running with your laces undone is stupid, because you’ll more than likely trip. But they don’t care until they trip. Throwing your toy because you’re angry about something ends up with you still being pissed off and not having a toy. Alright, this one takes a while to learn, but they get there in the end.
There’s no doubt that mother’s instinct instructs us to limit all danger, potential for pain, and acts of downright stupidity. And of course none of us wants or enjoys seeing our kids hurt or making a fool of themselves. I’m just saying that no matter how good a teacher we are, they will never truly learn some lessons until they have experienced life first hand.
We have to remind ourselves that one day our kids are going to be adults, really out in the big bad world, making their own way, going it alone. If they’ve been shielded from every muddy instance of pain, upset, and hurt in their lives, how will they cope as adults? The first job rejection letter, the first time he doesn’t text back, the first time they prang someone’s wing mirror. The way they choose to handle these situations as adults will be a reflection of the way they have learned to handle things as kids.
Do they run and hide, or do they face it with their head held high? The stakes are higher once they’re grown, and hiding isn’t the safe place it once was. Hiding means you don’t apply for another job for fear of rejection, or ever try to date again, or leave your insurance details. Hiding means running away from life.
So why do kids eat mud? Because they’re learning about the world, and the more they learn the better. You never know, they might even learn so much that they become a bloody genius.