How I Use Danger To Keep My Kids Safe
+ 8 Exercises on how to pluck up the courage
What? You purposefully inject danger into your child’s life? Are you insane?
I can hear you think. Worst case scenarios fly through your head in fast succesion. All those catastrophic consequences. So irresponsible.
Because 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.
So we child-proof the house, we lock away sharp tools, grandma’s silver is replaced by colourful plastic. We tell them they’re not old enough to climb that structure, to use that powertool, to go to that park alone or to play with those friends.
At the same time, we want to prepare our children for the future and the real world. Quite the parental paradox if you ask me.
So what if I told you that;
- by openly exposing your children to risky situations, you can actually minimise risk?
- by inviting danger into your kid’s life, you can actually protect him from harm?
- by letting them fail and fall down, you can actually build their confidence?
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 figure out ways. Restricting access only makes it more interesting. 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.” Erma Bombeck
More often than not it’s our own fear that stands in the way of their personal growth.
Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, taught me 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
It’s a process. A continuous work in progress. Here are 5 lessons how to be a more brave, courageous parent, including 8 challenges to get there.
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 kids 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’re both comfortable with the situation, they 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 children 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.
2 weeks ago during the summer holidays back home, I cycled with my son into town to get ice cream. It was the very first time he cycled independently on the main road and I was holding my breath at every crossing, at every passing car. It was scary as hell. But he did great and I have never been more proud.
3. TEACH THEM TO RESPECT DANGER
There’s real danger in crossing the street without looking. Teach them to respect this danger by talking them through every step of the process, explaining the why’s, discussing the possible consequences if we skip steps and become careless.
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, often confusing and I for one used to keep a safe distance. (why & how I learned to cable up sockets and switches is a story for another day)
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 older brothers 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” Gever Tully
Give them a pocket knife to care for or make a bow and arrow together.
5. DE-MYSTIFY DANGER
Knowledge is power. And power brings control.
Build a campfire together.
Fire is magical and mysterious. My husband calls me a pyromaniac, 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.
ACCIDENTS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN
So be prepared. For the bruises, the tears, the failures, the struggle and the disappointment. Be prepared to cross that bridge when you come to it, together.
AND THEN WHAT?
And once you’ve have taken all those courageous steps? Congratulations!
You have diminished the fear of the unknown. 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 us, 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 us with pride and joy. It reminds us what our children are capable of. And it gives us courage. Courage to allow again a little more danger into their lives.
I’m passionate about practical parenting, encouraging kids to be curious and to get their little hands dirty. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to👏 👏 👏 it up. It helps more people find it.
Karin Louzado is a happy sleep-deprived expat mum of 2. She has lived in the Dubai 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 enjoying unplugged family time here.
Originally published at www.boomtree.ae on September 4, 2017.