+ 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?
english oxford dictionary
The possibility of suffering harm or injury.
The possibility of something unwelcome or unpleasant happening
Peril, hazard, risk, jeopardy, endangerment, imperilment, insecurity,
Source of apprehension, dread, fright, fear or terror
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.
Get rid of those plastic cups and replace them with glass. Allow your child to fill the glass themselves, to carry it around and to take it back to the sink when empty.
Be positive they will manage without you and use affirmative language. Say things like "Be careful" and "Walk slowly" instead of "Don't drop it!" or "Don't run!". You'll be amazed what a small change of words does in terms of encouragement.
Let them out of your sight occasionally. Start with asking them to get some groceries from the next aisle and work it up to waiting in the car while they pop into the bakery for a fresh baguette.
When you both are comfortable with the situation, your child can walk or cycle to the park alone and eventually go to school independently.
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!"
During every day life, provide plenty opportunities for your child to build strength, to develop gross motor skills. Give them space to run, climb, play. Hike a mountain together, walk barefoot on the beach to challenge their balance, their flexibility. Play ball games in the garden to develop hand-eye coordination. Have them run up and down the stairs at home. Sign them up for sports. The possibilities are endless.
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.
Bite the bullet and take off those stabilers. Let them climb that tree or scale that 8m high rockwall.
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.
Let them help you with practical chores around the house.
Kids love to help out. And they love to imitate. Do what you do.
Create opportunities for your kids to play with tools. To familiarize themselves with a screwdriver or hammer and how to use them. Next time an Ikea flatpack needs to be put together, ask your daughter to help you. Mine was the perfect assistant when furnishing our holiday home in Zanzibar.
Put up your own shelves instead of calling a guy. Build a treehouse in the garden or mend your son's bike tyre. Building things together is an amazing way to teach them hands-on practical skills and it provides quality bonding time. Both they will cherish a lifetime.
Introduce the concept of electricity.
Voltage, amps, currents;
electricity is complex and for many (including me) confusing. However, it's all around us and we've forgotten how to live without it. Show children how electricity works, explain what you are doing when changing a light bulb, let them watch when you need to change a plug or wire a socket. Not an expert yourself? Make YouTube your teacher.
Invest in LEGO Technic or Fischertechnik products. Yes, they are costly but last a lifetime. I remember the countless cars and machines my oldest brother fabricated. Last Christmas we found my husband's old kit in the attic, my son didn't touch the ipad all holiday.
4. WEAPONS ARE DANGEROUS - MAKE SOME
"Kids can develop an extended sense of self
through a tool at a very young age"
Give them a pocket knife to care for or make a bow and arrow together.
5. DE-MYSTIFY DANGER
" ipsa scientia potestas est ('knowledge itself is power')"
Sir Francis Bacon, Meditationes Sacrae (1597).
Build a campfire together.
Fire is magical and mysterious. My husband calls me a pyromaniac. I'm not afraid of fire, quite the opposite, I LOVE fire. I love the spectacle of flames, the warmth it brings, the crackling sound and smell of burning wood...
I know what it takes to light a fire (no, am not talking petrol), how to keep it burning and how to put it out. When constructing our holiday home in Zanzibar, I even built a fire pit so I can enjoy a campfire every evening.
I have a deep respect for fire, I know it's hot, I know it burns, but I am not afraid. And because I am not afraid, my kids aren't.
Allow your children to play with fire, let the fire reveal itself; the heat, the dancing flames, the sounds and smells of burning. Learn which materials burn, how do they smell? And talk about safety measures; a bucket of water, sand or a fire blanket. Most importantly, do not forget the marshmallows.
Too scary? Start with lighting a match together and watch it burn.
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.