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An Accident, An Injury, and Thoughts on Unsupervised Play

So it finally happened… Hercules had an accident. I’m not talking about the minor bumps and bruises that happen all the time. This was a head injury that drew blood. We’ve always known that with the kind of personality that Hercules has, accidents like these will be inevitable (unless we intend to keep him inside a bubble – even then I’m sure he’d try to pop the bubble to get out).

What happened?

I was cooking dinner. It was our first extended family dinner at our new home – my ILs were all coming. Everybody knows that cooking is not my element but I was trying very hard to put together something edible. While I was busy in the kitchen, I let Hercules and Aristotle entertain themselves. Aristotle was reading a book to my Dad (who was visiting), and Hercules was in the play room by himself. I figured it was about as safe a place as he was going to be in since the EXPEDIT shelves are stuck to the wall and there are lots of toys to keep him out of mischief – or so I thought…

Then I hear a crash and Hercules gives out the biggest wail I have ever heard from him. This was no ordinary wail. Something serious had happened. When I rushed into the room, he was on the floor next to an upturned Mammut stool from IKEA with a river of tears pouring down his face. I rush to hug him, then I pull him away slightly to ask him, “Where’s your owie?” Then I see it – the red gash above his left eye and I felt my heart drop into my stomach.

I rushed him out to the nearest clinic I could find (Note to parents moving house: drive around your new neighbourhood and make sure you are familiar with where all the important ammenities are before you move so you don’t have to hunt them down when an emergency happens). The doctor wasn’t in yet but the nurse assured me that she was on her way. Since it was raining heavily, I wasn’t about to go on a wild goose chase looking for another clinic.

While we are waiting, I realise that Hercules has pooped in his diaper but I have no change since we rushed out of the house so quickly. Figuring that it was more important for the doctor to see his wound, I let Hercules sit in his poopy diaper while we waited for the doctor to arrive. When she finally gets in, she examines the wound and assures me it is not deep – just large. Stitches aren’t necessary but it would heal with less scarring if we could use the “glue” which, unfortunately, she did not have. She said it would still heal without the glue but the scarring would be worse.

It was still raining and I figured the “glue” is not something a lot of local doctors would carry so I decided to take Hercules home to change his diaper and then head out to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. Before I could get home, Hercules had fallen asleep because he was his past nap time. Since hubby was already on his way home, we waited for him to get home before heading to the hospital.

At the hospital, the doctor asks us what happened. Since no one was in the room when it happened, I could only tell him what I could piece together based on the evidence. The incredulous tone of voice from the doctor when he said, “He was alone???” spoke volumes of what he thought about me leaving Hercules alone in a room, unsupervised. And it made me think…

Hercules was in his play room – a room intended for him to play in. It was safe – the bookshelf was securely fastened to the wall and would not topple, and the windows were barred and locked. The only oversight was the Mammut stools which are intended for children to sit on, except some of them – like those with the nature of Hercules – would think to step on them to reach higher. The stools have since been removed as Hercules appears not to have learned any lessons from the fall when he promptly attempted to climb them again almost immediately after he got back from the hospital…

Let’s consider the whole supervised versus unsupervised play… Recently, I read an article about it arguing for more free play. The main reasons for the decrease in free play are:

  • fear of safety
  • pushing for extensive academics

We’ve talked before about the importance of play, but this discussion is specifically on free play – in other words, “imaginative, unstructured, rambunctious “free play,” not teacher or parent structured games and activities”. Here are some of the benefits cited for free play:

Free play has been linked to memory growth, decreased ADHD symptoms, decreased stress, problem solving, self-regulation, language skills, increased literacy skills, math proficiency and much more.

In fact, “one study found that most convicted killers have a major issue in common – they report a lack of playtime as kids.”

Okay, so the arguments are for free play which doesn’t necessarily mean unsupervised but the author of the article also goes on to add that children should be allowed to go “outside alone for a good old kid adventure”. Well, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to let the boys out on their own just yet because let’s face it, the part of the world we live in is very different from that of the author’s. Here, children walking with their mothers at the market have been kidnapped, I hate to think what could happen to a child wandering on his own. Our roads here are not safe – car drivers drive aggressively, they mount curbs, there are no “safe” walking footpaths, and I could go on. When the children are older, they will learn to negotiate all these “dangers”, but at 2 and 5, it’s probably a tad early. In the meantime, I think unsupervised play in a “safe” room should be fine.

We live in a day and age where there is a lot of concern about the safety of children. I am also from a part of the world where domestic help is easy to get and often relied upon to assist with childcare (which is neither full-proof I should add – consider the case where two maids failed to watch the child who drowned). We’ve chosen take the path without domestic help. That means the boys will need to learn a little more independence – Mummy won’t always be around to watch and do everything because I may be busy with household chores. However this, I think, is fine and even good for the boys. Aristotle learns that he must take his dishes to the sink, throw out his own rubbish, and help wipe up after himself because there is no one to pick up after him. Hercules will learn to do the same as he grows up. In the meantime, I enjoy the extra privacy we have as a family.

(I should also add that we won’t be going back to Columbia Asia Hospital any time soon. We were rather unhappy about the fact that the nurse was treating Hercules’ open wound without gloves. Infection control procedures don’t seem to be enforced very well.)

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

6 thoughts on “An Accident, An Injury, and Thoughts on Unsupervised Play

  1. I feel your pain Shen Li. Just last week, my LO took a tumble down 5 steps of stairs because the safety gate was not latched on properly. Daddy’s mistake. He would have fallen all the way to the landing if not for the help who was on her way up @.@

    Moral of the story, no matter how hard we try, children will tumble and fall, bruise and bleed. Fortunately, My LO did learn from his mistake. . I remind him EVERYDAY about the fall. So, he longer try to climb or kick the gate.

    Another issue of concern would be the MAMMUT stool. I find that it is really unsuitable for toddlers as they tend to tip over. Ours is officially Mommy’s stool 🙂


    1. Jessica – Yes, you’re absolutely right. Those Mammut stools are really unsuitable! We got it thinking it would be useful for Aristotle to sit down by his table when he wants to write and draw. Hercules doesn’t use the stools at all – except to throw them around the room and obviously to climb on them…

      I have tried reminding him about the fall but it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. He just goes right now. In fact, I think he enjoyed all the attention because yesterday at the supermarket, he kept deliberately bumping his head (clearly not painful bumps) and saying, “Ow!”


  2. Hi Shen, Dont blame yourself yah. This kind of this happen. Next time just rush to emergency in hospital. Recently Ben was wailing away and saying his head pain, I rushed him to hospital – turned out to be just fever. Cost me only RM100 for peace of mind, which is ok for me. Next maybe you can put your son in Fly Kidz which will helped them to teach how to fall “safely”. I was taking to another mum how her son in an open field with nothing on it, fell dow and broke his arm! So then I realise with Ben and I think it is because of his training in the Fly Kidz, thankfully he does not get many accidents.


    1. Thanks Irene. Yes, in future, I will. Kids will be kids – especially when they are like Hercules… Just a shock for me because his brother is nothing like this. Fall once and that’s enough for it never to happen again.

      I did try Fly Kidz for him but he doesn’t participate. He just goes off into the corners to do his own thing. Maybe when older… In the meantime… Mummy on eggshells.


  3. Hope Hercules is fine by now. I can feel your pain when it happened. We’ve our fair share of “bloody” incidents and all happened DURING parental supervision! How crazy! Cut my 2-month old’s finger with nailclipper, toddler fell backwards on stairs and hit head (I was right behind and didn’t manage to catch him!), slipped into bathroom drainage hole and got a bad cut (in front of Daddy), etc. Accidents simply happen, and we all learn from them.

    When you’re cooking, how about setting up a play area just outside the kitchen? At this age, toddlers can be up to anything adventurous and still not logical enough to learn their lesson. Take care! 🙂


    1. Hi MieVee – totally agree! Even with me in the room, accidents have happened. With a child like Hercules, you just have to take your eyes off him for just a moment and something can happen (like when we were at the furniture store and he was playing with plastic fruits in a fruit bowl and I thought it was “safe” to take my eyes off him for a moment and when I looked back, a vase that was nowhere near him before was in the process of falling and there was no way for me to catch it in time).

      I’m afraid I struggle even with the play area near the kitchen because he tends to come to me even more when I’m in sight to show me things and it can be dangerous if I am cooking and don’t notice him underfoot. He is also too tall, too strong, and too able a climber to be barricaded adequately – not to mention the presence of a barrier seems to annoy him and it makes him even more frustrated and determined to get past it. Like if I close the room door, he’ll want to open it. But if I leave the door open, he won’t be bothered by it as much almost as if the knowledge that he can come and go freely is sufficient for him.

      He’s quite a different experience for me because Aristotle was always very careful – even at this age. He only had to get hurt once and he would have learned his lesson. When he was still crawling, he slipped once on a mat that was on the floor. The next time he was crawling, he stopped when he reached the mat, flung it out of his way and continued crawling. Hercules can fall off the same chair five/six times and he will still continue to climb it. Perhaps it is because Aristotle is so sensitive to pain that he learns his lessons more easily whereas Hercules gets injuries all the time without even a whimper. Sometimes I don’t even realise how he hurt himself but I can see the cut or bruise. It’s amazing how different they are…


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