Tumble Tragedy

A 4 year old boy in the UK was found dead in a tumble dryer after a game of hide and seek went horribly wrong. While the mother was out shopping the boy was left in the care of his half brothers and half sisters. Comments on the web site where the story is located include ones that confidently decry ever leaving ‘children to look after other children’. The tone is somewhat smug and all-knowing, I wonder if the commentator has children of their own or has ever had to go to the shops and leave their children at home, alone? There is no mention of a father in the article so perhaps she is a single parent? Also we are not told the ages of the half-siblings, they might be old enough to manage in most circumstances. The reality is that there are times when you can’t take them with you and you have to do things and leave them and there are no adults available to watch them.

When I was a small boy in the 1960s my father was at work or away with the Forces and my mother had to work. My sister, 17 months my senior and I, were often left on our own for the day once we were at school age and during school holidays. When I was 5 we would wake up, have the breakfast left by my mother then travel on the bus into town to stay with her at her place of work. We spent hours in the storeroom bored stiff. It was a case of economic necessity. Even when I was 10 I was allowed to travel by train to the city with my sister and other friends and we would spend the day roaming the streets, riding the ferry to Manly and back then taking the train all the way backout to Villawood. But that was 1971. Nearly 40 years later there is no way I would allow my 11 year old and her 7 year old sister to take the bus to the local Mall by themselves. It is a different society we live in.

While accidents and tragedies can occur at home, even when parents are present, there are some scenarios where the risk is heightened. Yet how does one, as a responsible parent, prepare one’s children for life on their own, taking their chances as we all had to? When we can lose them so easily in our own homes, the thought of them out there, in public, without us…

But it has to be done. You have to give them the opportunity to experience independence and the weight of making their own decisions. Consequences. I believe we start young with letting them go to the mail box on their own like my 3 year old loves to do. Her 2 year old sister followed her out the other day and didn’t get back in through the driveway gate in time before her older sister slammed it shut. She hasn’t figured out the gate latch like the older one has, so she stood there screaming and yelling for help until I came and let her in, gave her a big hug and off she went, once more happy and content.

I try to give them good training to apply when life challenges them with something new. It is a sad fact of life that we all think that when the chips are down we will rise to the occasion whereas what usually happens is we fall back to the level of our training. If we haven’t been properly trained in the first place, we are well behind that 8 ball.

In the case of 4 year olds and tumble dryers, while you can’t foresee every latent hazard, you can take a few moments to survey your home and identify potential life takers. We have plugs for power points and clips for doors, keep poisons well off floor level and try to second guess our kids. It’s not easy but then parenting never was.

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