Friday, January 6, 2012


Leander wasn't the fastest in his gross motor development. He took his time crawling, sitting up, standing and walking. But whenever he achieved one of those steps he enjoyed it A LOT. So it was only clear to me that once he could walk I would let him do so as much as possible. Which - as it turned out - isn't that easy and natural when you live in a city with a child who LOVES cars and is not interested in playgrounds or parks.

We have the Prater in Vienna, partly an amusement park with the famous Ferris Wheel and behind that a huge green park with a big wide alley running through it. The alley is closed to traffic except police cars and garbage trucks. It is THE place to be for runners, walkers, parents with prams, cyclists and Segways (some weird electronic vehicles). So I thought this was the best compromise to my son. No boring green park with only trees and grass but no main road with too much traffic either. What I did not expect was that he would not be interested in walking ALONG the alley but preferred CROSSING the alley. With a stroller and a bag it was quite a hassle to stop him from being run over by cyclists or the occasional garbage truck. I got frustrated. All parents (so it seemd) would sit in parks or on playgrounds with their children playing happily in the sand pit or the grass. Which is always greener on the other side and I know I wasn't right there.

My last idea turned out to be the greatest solution of all: Our house is on quite a big road but the next left or right turn leads us into very small roads with loads of cars parked and just a few cars driving past every now and then. I told Leander to hold my hand until we would turn into the small side roads and then I let him lead. And this was it. We would walk around for hours but never get much further away from home than 200m. In that area he could watch cars, touch cars and - the most exciting bit of all - cross roads. Here I had made the one and only rule: Whenever we would cross a road he would HAVE TO hold my hand. He did not like that but I was clear and strict about it and without really knowing the reason behind he got that I meant it. It wasn't as easy as it sounds though.
The first few days and weeks we would have the occasional screaming child lying in the middle of a junction. He sometimes just let go off my hand while we were crossing and would not - under no cicrumstances - move. In these moments I picked him up and - while he was screaming and trying to get down - explained to him why I now had to sit him back into his stroller. After such moments I then pictured those relaxed parents on the playground again... I had doubts if I expected too much of him but what could I do - force him to be happy on the playground?

During that time I had my first block of my Pikler training course. I learned that in the orphanage in Budapest the children who could walk were allowed out with a nurse and had the exact same rule - to hold hands when crossing roads. And if they didn't they were told that they COULD go back to the house. It was a matter of words. They didn't HAVE TO go back to the house, they COULD. Because they saw that the child didn't do it on purpose to annoy the nurse, they were just too overwhelmed or too tired for this situation in this very moment. So they got the possibility to go back to a safe place and play.I started using that wording too and it worked so well that sometimes when I told Leander "I need you to hold my hand now, if you can't do it you may go back into your stroller." he would nod. I learned that he in fact was too tired most of the times. The first few junctions he would hold my hand but after a while concentration was gone, it was all too much and he needed a break.

Still this was the best that could happen to him. He now walks a lot. I gave him a little toy car on a string and a wooden duck on a string and he always pulls one of them behind. These are our afternoons. We walk around the area, along the shops week for week a little further. Before we reach a junction he already stretches his arm out to one of us. The other day Jan just crossed a very quiet road without noticing Leander's hand so Leander stopped and shouted after his dad. He knows the rule and he takes it serious.

We get a lot of smiles from the people who pass us. It is a rare picture to see such a small child walking on his own (and pulling a duck or a truck) behind him. I understand that it looks dangerous with all the traffic around. But if we trust our children and allow them to learn the rules as much as we allow them to rest we might be surprised of how capable they are. I know children are different but it is worth a try before we just go ahead and push our children in strollers from playground to playground.Because it's not just that this way Leander gets enough exercise in order to enjoy a good nights sleep and a brighter day to follow. It's also that HE gets to choose where we go most of the time and you can tell how much he enjoys that when he points at a road and I agree to follow his lead. Sometimes I even think of different routes to the same destination (supermarket, subway station, home etc.) so even if he can't choose freely which way we go - he still has a choice. This may sound like a bit of a hassle for me but it isn't. I enjoy just leaving the house not knowing where we'll end up. And I believe that this way we have fewer arguments of which way we go because even if I have to decide "I need you to sit in the stroller for now, we need to be quick." (e.g. In the mornings) I can still add "But in the afternoon (or tomorrow) you'll get to choose again." And believe it or not, even if he does not like it, most of the time he nods and is fine with it. It's all about wording, explaining while respecting his feelings.

When I pick Leander up from the creche he asks for his "Pieps" immediately. It is his duck and he takes it and walks off. At the gate I used to stop and put him into the stroller because from the garden we go straight across the road to the subway station, up the elevator to the platform. One day I decided to let him walk those few metres. He took my hand, we crossed the street and in the station he let go and turned left straight for the elevator. Standing in the elevator moving up he smiled and laughed so much - as if to be free and grown up. Those are priceless moments I don't want to miss.

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