There are some things we all know will end in disaster, which is why most parents won’t let their kids play with the knife drawer. On the other hand there are things we let our children do that are perfectly reasonable but go on to cause months, even years, of parental pain.
If you want an easier life it might be worth taking note of some innocent activities parents often regret letting their kids get involved with.
1. Parking the car
After a four-hour journey it’s only fair to liberate your child from the car seat and let her sit on your knee while you park. She’ll hold the wheel, beep the horn and decide she never wants to sit anywhere else ever again. Why would she when there’s a massive button to press up front that makes a massive noise?
“We let our daughter ride in the front passenger seat once and now we have a meltdown every time she has to sit in the back,” says mum-of-two Melissa.
It’s a salutary lesson for us all. Once children get a taste for the exciting adult space that involves glove pockets, hidden sweets and gear sticks there’s no going back. Journeys will now begin with you pinning your flailing child down and strapping her in while passers-by look on suspiciously.
2. Eating crackers
There is, though, one fail safe way to get a child back into her car seat and that’s with the promise of food. If you’ve got precisely 30 seconds to drop her off at the grandparents and do a weekly shop before you’re due at the office, offering her a cracker in return for a peaceful journey seems a small price to pay.
But the cracker is a gateway food that changes the relationship between toddler and car. Soon she’ll expect a cracker every time she travels. Then she’ll want butter on it. Then she’ll want a plate. Then she’ll want a four-course meal with amuse-bouches.
3. Wearing novelty clothes
Children have strong opinions about everything. My daughter recently told me she would only eat “flat toast” from now on, which is perfectly reasonable obviously. But her most vehemently held thoughts are reserved for her clothes.
When a relative returns from holiday clutching an oversized kids’ T-shirt that features a winking sea creature with the words “Have A Whale Of A Time” emblazoned across it, she’s immediately enthralled. She has no shame about rooting through the dirty washing to find it and will happily slip it on straight from the machine – who cares if it’s still damp? She will definitely not wear a cardigan over it.
My advice? Only introduce your children to clothes you like.
4. Playing with a pretend cooker
What’s wrong with encouraging your child to develop an interest in haute cuisine by giving them a plastic cooker for their birthday? Well not very much I thought, until my friend Michelle recounted her tale: “I let my son play on a life-like oven. Then we moved to a new house and one day I found him on top of the real oven with an element mark on his freshly burnt hand.”
So it turns out you’re asking for trouble. The same goes for fake work benches and tools...
5. Downloading talking cats
In the old days children grew up thinking cats were little furry animals that meowed. Now most kids’ interactions with nature come via a smart phone app.
“As soon as my daughter sees me she makes a beeline for my phone shouting ‘cat, cat, cat’”, explains mother-of-one Sian.
And why wouldn’t she? These digital creatures sing about love and repeat what you say in a funny voice. Smart phones don’t need a litter tray either.
Unfortunately the first time you introduce your child to such an app is also the last time you’ll use your phone without her clambering over your shoulders and frantically prodding at the screen, which makes texting anything coherent virtually impossible.
Modern toddlers are also really disappointed when they bump into a real four-legged creature and it won’t squeal “I’ve done a poo” back at them.
6. Riding the supermarket bus
Another way to describe the shopping-with-small-child supermarket experience is: how to say “no you can’t have that” 349 times without triggering a force 10 tantrum.
Once you’ve passed the checkouts your willpower has been so ceaselessly eroded you’d say ‘yes’ to just about anything. Which is exactly why supermarkets line the walk to the exit with brightly coloured moving ride-on toys. Come on, we’ve just spent £100 in your shop, do you really need that extra 50p?
No child can fail to be enticed. Few parents can say no for the 350th time. And so your kid climbs on. To you it seems like she’s gently rocking back and forth in a vaguely fun way, to her she’s experiencing the kind of thrill only a fighter pilot can relate to.
Your child will soon notice these machines are in a lot more places than you realised. And she’ll want to ride on all of them.