Thinking Like a Boat Mom: Rules

This weekend, Molly and I visited the Seattle Boat Show. Boat Dad Trevor will be there both weekends with his sponsor, Centurion, which translates to, “Trevor is loving life, sitting in boats with friends who love boats, sharing all he knows and loves about boats with other boat lovers.” I say this with adoration for him and I’m serious; I’m not being sarcastic. He is admirable in his pursuit to live his passions, and I appreciate him modeling that for our baby girl. Not only did Molly get to see her daddy in his element, I saw some impressive parenting today that I can’t wait to share with you.

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The fam at the 2017 Seattle Boat Show

My Pool Mom radar went off over a parental move I noticed as I watched moms corral their water babies crawling around in the boats (and here it is): reinforce boating rules even though the boats aren’t in the water. Smart! {I need an emoji here! Something that speaks happily of shock, awe, and lightbulb brilliance!} Aside from life jacket-wearing (no one took it this far), the rules remained:

  • We stay off the sides of the boat. (Dangerous.)
  • We sit on the seats; we don’t stand. (It’s dangerous when the boat is moving.)
  • Only grown ups touch the dashboard. (Also dangerous.)

Trevor reinforced the boat rules with Molly, too, by making her sit instead of letting her toddle across the back of the boat. Admittedly, I let her toddle across the back of the boat. {Another emoji, please. Maybe a palm to face.} He grew up around boats and this kind of thinking must be as engrained in him as it is for me with pool rules. I just wasn’t thinking like a Boat Mom! So let me try it: next year, I think I’ll bring Molly’s life jacket with us because one of our rules is “always wear a life jacket on the dock and boat.” Yep. Read on and I’ll tell ya more about this thought.

Set clear boundaries. It’s pertinent for teaching life or death safety smarts that your children will take seriously… for me, this includes putting on a life jacket before you get on the dock, wearing a helmet when you ride (see the ambiguity there? With “ride,” I covered bikes, horses, roller skates, skateboards, and snow sports in one fell swoop!), looking both ways when we cross the street, and always wearing a seat belt in the car. When deciding on your rules, choose your words carefully and think of what you would say to reinforce it in the positive form. For example, instead of “don’t run,” say, “walk.” Our brain thinks about the last thing it heard, so when we tell a child, “don’t run,” we actually set them up to think about running. When I taught in the classroom, one of our rules each year was, “Walk everywhere you go.” That phrase lived in my back pocket, and I’ve learned that most rules that make sense should be easy to say and broadly applicable.

Let me share another teacher trick. When kids have remembered and acted upon a rule without needing to be told, you can thank them for (insert rule here.) This is a classic move that positively reinforces an expectation while also serving as an opportunity to build up your relationship. Beginning when they’re little helps them learn to associate following directions with good feelings.

The brains of babies and toddlers are driven by feelings and impulses. They haven’t matured enough to understand, for example, exceptions to a rule (and therefore, exceptions to following directions.) Making a temporary exception blurs the boundaries you’ve set and can be confusing to a child. When it comes to water safety, it’s vital to be as clear and consistent as possible. Firm but kind. So today, I had to remind myself of our family’s boat rules and ask myself, “Would I want Molly to EVER think she can get on a boat without her life jacket?” My answer is NO, not in the foreseeable future, and it would be unfair to her current developmental stage to change the rules on her temporarily. And so, this is how I came to think we should bring her life jacket to the boat show next year.

It seems a little goofy to me to put a kid in a life jacket when the boat isn’t in the water, but if wearing a life jacket on a boat is my expectation, I’m unintentionally diluting my own rules if I don’t follow through with practicing it. At least during this early stage of Molly’s life when logic is lacking. Throughout childhood, rules serve as a framework. A strong developmentally appropriate framework provides children with the sense of safety they crave, as well as freedom to explore within that structure. Today I learned that even off the water at the boat show, the same boating rules still exist. I’m curious what the mamas of toddlers and older kids think about this! I hope you’ll let me know. 🙂

The Seattle Boat Show runs this weekend and next, January 27th – February 4th at CenturyLink Field Event Center. Swing by the Centurion Boats corner (West 67) to say hi to Trevor and see some gorgeous surf boats up close and personal. You might bump into Molly and me snuggling up in the cushy seats, too!

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