Intellectually, I believe that excessive anxiety about safety should not squelch a toddler’s bold exploration. I struggled with the same issues with his mother Emma as I do with her son Michael. My striking the right balance was only clear in retrospect.
From a paper I wrote in 1978:
From about ten months on Emma was happiest in the playground. Occasionally I would envy the mothers who could relax around the edge of the sandbox chatting with other mothers, occasionally interrupting their conversation with a gentle, “No eating sand, dear.” Meanwhile, my ten month old would be roaming the far perimeters of the playground, relentlessly working to master the slide and the jungle gym. When my attention was momentarily diverted, she figured out how to slip out between the bars of the playground. She was headed toward Central Park West as I ran faster than I ever had in my life to catch her.
Very early on I decided that the only sane course of action was to let Emma try what she wanted to try and be right there to catch her in case she had overestimated her abilities. Sometimes I questioned if I were being underprotective as my 16 month old was up on a 10 foot platform headed for the giant slide while many mothers simply prohibited their two years olds to go past the 4 foot platform. Of course, there I was on the 10 foot platform and there they were on the park bench. By the time Emma was 2, I was convinced that my decision not to restrict her physical exploration was the right one because she was quite amazingly competent. And in five years she has never hurt herself in slightest in the playground.