As a nine year old girl, I once swabbed my face with a leaf of poison ivy, just to see what would happen. It was quite possibly one of the dumbest things I’d ever done, being that I ended up looking like a cross between the Elephant Man and Jabba the Hut the way my face swelled up and began to ooze. It’s safe to say I learned to keep my distance from the evil pointed leaves of three after that.

Kids need to learn to get back up when they fall, learn to use their imaginations, and every once in a while eat some dirt. Of course parents don’t want their kids to end up with broken bones, or end up eating poisonous weeds, either, but it’s important to let kids make mistakes, to bump their knees and scrape their elbows. It helps them to understand the ups and downs of life, but also teaches them how to avoid those things as well.

Kids need to be able to make their own choices and understand the consequences of those choices. In order for our children to learn and grow, we need to let them discover things, good and bad alike, for themselves.

When kids get hurt because they were climbing on something they shouldn’t have been climbing on, or simply weren’t paying attention when they ran headfirst into a fence, many parents blame someone else for fear of being seen as a bad parent. There is a teaching moment here: “Watch where you’re going.” “Be careful.” Climbing on things helps kids to hone their balance and learn other motor skills. Let them. If they trip or fall, be there to catch them, dust them off and help them get back up again. From this they will learn that pain is temporary and so is failure.

Teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t just let them wander off into oncoming traffic assuming that the “pedestrian has the right of way.” Teach them bicycle hand signals, and make sure they use them.

But sooner or later, you’ll need to take off the training wheels, and let them roam free. A helmet will not keep them from falling, but as long as they have you there to help them back up, they will never stop learning.