IMG_3151I’ve mentioned a few times that I am reluctant to bid summer farewell. I love the heat, I love the freedom, I love the long days.

But, as it does every year, fall arrives and when it does I am reminded that Atlanta is at her finest in autumn.

We got a little taste of her fall glory this weekend, especially yesterday, when the skies were bright and the air was crisp. We spent as much time outside as we could.

The President’s House at Emory is situated in a glorious multi-acre estate with a lake, a waterfall, a suspension bridge, and magical, majestic magnolias that pretty much beg you to climb them. We spent our afternoon there yesterday, tossing the frisbee, running, tormenting the ducks (gah!), and creating kingdoms underneath the magnolia canopies.

You should know that I was a puny little girl. I was physically small and I suffered from a lot of anxiety and thus didn’t experiment with my body’s abilities very much. We lived on nine acres, so I did get to walk in the woods and climb rocks more than the average kid, I suppose. But I definitely didn’t push any boundaries.

Consequently, while I passed every other element of the President’s Physical Fitness Test, I never passed the Arm Hang. And, when I say I didn’t pass it, I mean I was never remotely close to getting my chin over the bar.

Because of said childhood puny-ness, as an adult, I’ve focused a lot on my “strength-to-weight ratio” and I’ve focused obsessively on cultivating it in my kids. Thus, we do a lot of hanging in our family. (You can read more about strength-to-weight-ratio and kids in this Breaking Muscle article but in sum, it relates to whether you have the strength to hold your own body weight in a variety of different positions.)

So I was really, really gratified yesterday to see my big kids, W and M, shimmy up the trees, swing IMG_3158
from branches, and navigate with a sense of ease and confidence I would never have dared to hope for as a child. Meanwhile, Little A was pulling herself up on the low branches and scooting herself forward, all of which will help her develop the skills she will need to climb the trees when her body and brain are ready.

I didn’t just thrust us into all this hanging and swinging willy nilly. As I said, I was a weak and anxious child and, as an adult, I still tend toward the anxious, especially when my kids are in harm’s way. But, one of the ways that we’ve mitigated the potential for harm is by letting them do the hanging and climbing without assistance (interference?) from us.

What comes next may sound like parenting advice, but it’s really not. What I’m about to say is firmly grounded in exercise science and knowledge about how the brain and body work together. (You can read about the principles of adaptation and progression here as a refresher.)

When it comes to physical play, do your best to not intervene in your child’s efforts.

The more of a challenge that their little bodies face, the more you need to take a step back.

Let’s take climbing a tree for example and say that your child asks to be lifted onto a branch, hold your hand, and have help getting down. While you may be assisting her in the short term, you are preventing her body – muscles, connective tissue, cardiovascular system and more – from adapting to the challenge. You are bypassing the brain’s construction of new neural pathways related to balance and proprioreception. And, you are interfering in the innate risk-assessment calculus that she desperately needs to develop on her own.

Of course, I am not asking that you ignore your children. If they are in danger, help them. I never stand more than an arm’s length away from mine while they climb. (Again, anxious much?) What I am saying is that if they cannot accomplish a feat on their own, you shouldn’t step in to enable them to do it.

Preventing harm = good. Enabling them to go outside their boundaries ≠ good.

Likewise, by the way, if you want to join in on the fun – and you absolutely should be hanging and climbing and swinging and much as you can – you will want to allow your own tissues, balance and decisionmaking skills to progress slowly as your body adapts to the challenges. Katy Bowman, M.S. has written a masterful piece called “Hanging and Swinging 101” that will walk you through it.

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don’t they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?

Excerpted from Every Time I Climb a Tree – by David McCord

Take to the trees this fall. I’m pretty sure they’re beckoning you, too.


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