Why You Should Expose Your Kids To Danger To Keep Them Safe
+ 8 exercises on How to Pluck up the courage
You want to encourage your children to develop into strong, confident, independent people.
You understand kids need to develop the confidence and competence to solve their own problems.
You value the learnings that come from failure, falling down and getting up again, building grit and determination.
Yet, there you are.
Swooping in to rescue her at the first sign of trouble. Protecting him from tears and disappointment.
Because that's your responsibility as a parent, right?
OUR WORST FEAR
I know. It’s a fine line, very fine. Grey-coloured. Dotted even.
Where does the helping hand change from being supportive, there to catch your child when they slip and fall off the climbing frame, into a hand that guides, leads, controls?
When does allowing your children to do things on their own, turn into negligence? And looking at age, how much freedom is appropriate? What would others say if you'd send your child off to play in the park alone?
When talking to other parents about the biggest struggle parenting young children, it's not issues like bedtime routine, potty training, sleepless nights or tantrums that come up. Turns out, all these problems are minor when compared to what troubles a parent's mind most.
What keeps us awake at night, what frightens us most, unites all parents:
"the fear that we can't protect our children from harm, or that
our children can't protect themselves when we are not around"
what is danger?
It would be the obvious conclusion to say that Danger and Safety are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Or are they?
The most common act to shield kids from harm is to eliminate the complete possibility of danger. We child-proof the house, we lock away sharp tools, grandma's silver and expensive china are packed away and replaced by colourful plastic. We tell them they're not old enough to climb that structure, to use that powertool, to play in that park or with those children.
This may stop them from experiencing danger, from living through a potentially unpleasant happening. But it also prevents valuable learnings, the falling down and getting up again, building grit and determination. We are shielding them from living life in the real world.
Injecting a little danger here and there can actually do wonders in safeguarding and preparing your children for the future.
It's like that forbidden fruit. What's so special about these knives that mummy doesn't allow me to use them?
And before you know it, you find your son up on a chair, top drawer open, showing that sharp knife to his little sister...
Kids are clever. They will figure out ways. Restricting access only makes it more interesting, appealing and tempting. Put a big red warning sign on it and you can be sure you have their full attention.
Far fewer accidents happen when you let them experiment with danger. And that takes a huge amount of courage.
SOME IDEAS ON PLUCKING UP COURAGE
"All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage.
Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them."
Purposefully injecting danger into my child's life? Are you insane?
Worst case scenarios fly through your head in fast succesion. All those catastrophic consequences.
Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, teaches us an important lesson on plucking up courage in his Ted Talk "The 5 dangerous things you should let your kid do":
"They're going to get a little nicked up,
but they're young, they heal easily."
HOW TO PUT YOUR CHILD IN DANGER SAFELY
Key is to let kids explore, to discover and learn by themselves. In a safe controlled environment, with you nearby.
Give them bite sized, age-appropriate exercises. Tasks to build and grow their life skills. Start small, so you both can get used to the increased freedom. Kids living up to the task? Slowly stretch the leash and take it up a notch.
1. TRUST THEM WITH DANGEROUS SITUATIONS
You can't fake this one. Show you genuinely trust them. Kids read faces like books. I once made the mistake of gasping in disgust when entering an airplane toilet. My daughter only had to glance up at me to decide she didn't need to go. I've never gotten her into another airplane toilet since.
2. TURN THEM INTO ATHLETES
What is your child currently physically capable of? Is he strong? Does she have good balance and flexibility? Often our idea of danger derives from the lack of physicial ability. "Are you crazy? He can't tackle that rockwall alone, he is only 3!"
I grew up on a farm with 4 siblings. Every morning, from age 5, I cycled the 2 kilometers to primary school. Every afternoon and evening we were playing outside, climbing trees, building huts. None of us ever broke a bone.
Countless hours of physical play build confidence in your body. This sense of capability is something invaluable.
3. TEACH THEM TO RESPECT DANGER
There's a clear and real danger in crossing the street without looking. It's a danger present for every street they will cross during their lives. Teach them to respect this danger by talking your child through every step of the process, explaining the why's, discussing the possible consequences if we skip steps and become careless.
Respecting the danger and learning to take actions accordingly, goes a long way in reducing the possibility of it happening at all.
4. WEAPONS ARE DANGEROUS - MAKE SOME
"Kids can develop an extended sense of self
through a tool at a very young age"
5. DE-MYSTIFY DANGER
" ipsa scientia potestas est ('knowledge itself is power')"
Sir Francis Bacon, Meditationes Sacrae (1597).
ON A LAST REALISTIC NOTE
ACCIDENTS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN
Be prepared. For the bruises, the tears, the failures, the struggle and the disappointment.
Teach your kids some first aid basics, they should know how to treat small cuts, burns and insect bites. Ensure they know where to find the plasters and band-aids. When they're old enough, send them to a proper course. When I was an 8-year old girl scout, I earned my First Aid badge - I couldn't have been more proud to show everybody I was capable to apply a sling or finger bandage.
Do a fire-drill. My children have practised fire-drills in school but I've yet to do one at home.
Have them memorize your phone number and the emergency services. Teach them to ask for help.
AND THEN WHAT?
And once you have taken all those courageous steps? Congratulations!
You have diminished the fear of the unknown. You have pulled that scary monster from under the bed, out of its dark hiding place, and put it into the spotlight, for everybody to be seen. To be looked at, discussed, analysed.
Instead of fearing the unknown, they take it on with confidence. Cautious and curious.
Instead of hiding behind you, they take responsibility for their own actions.
Instead of giving up at the very first setback, they pick themselves up and try again.
That look of utter joy and pride on their faces after they succeeded, after tasks have been accomplished independently.
It fills you with pride and joy. It reminds us what our children are capable of. And it gives you courage. Courage to allow again a little more danger into their lives.
Karin Louzado is a happy sleep-deprived expat mum of 2. She has lived in the desert for over a decade, travelled to 45+ countries and built a holiday home in Africa with her husband (and is still married). Karin now dedicates her time helping parents raise happy, healthy kids. She loves liquorice, is addicted to stationary and tries her hand at pottery.