Monday, May 28, 2012

Laughing in the Face of Danger

I remember when Jude was about a year old, I went to visit a dear friend and her firstborn, who was 3 at the time. We took our little boys to the local park, and I set Jude down in the sand that surrounded the play structure. I stayed close by as he pulled himself up the ladder that led to the slide. My friend was astounded at my son's courageous approach to this new challenge, and at my relaxed stance...I didn't have my hands on him, and I didn't call out warnings to be careful, hold on tight, etcetera. Her little one was more cautious, and she was a lot more anxious about the possible dangers lurking in the play park. I wondered what came first...the cautious child, or the anxious parent.

Jude has always leaned towards the adventurous. He climbed everything, and split his lip so many times on his newly-grown front teeth that I grew accustomed to the sight of blood on my breast as I nursed his tears away. Once he climbed over the railing of our front porch, and I caught him just as he tumbled over. He's always been drawn to sharp things, sword-fighting with butter knives, wanting to help cut up veggies for dinner, and so on. He is fascinated by fire, and has little fear when it comes to being near it.

Amazingly, Jude has never (touch wood!) been in the hospital for stitches or broken bones. I realised early on that there was no talking him out of his natural inclinations towards dangerous stuff, and knew that the best way to prevent him from injuring himself was to teach him to climb safely, use a knife carefully, treat fire respectfully, and gauge how comfortable he was with a situation before diving in.

Recently, we watched "The Black Stallion". There's a prolonged scene where the little boy is stranded on an island with the horse, with only his clothes and a pocket knife. Jude was fascinated. Violet asked a million questions throughout the movie, but the only thing Jude wanted to know was: could HE have a pocket knife?

We found our old "garden knife", which we use for cutting marshmallow-roasting sticks, twine, etc. when working outside. I taught him to cut away from himself, to carry it point-down, and to make sure it was sharp. He wanted to know if he could try throwing it at something. We established some rules (no throwing when other people are around, no throwing at the ground near your feet). He actually managed to thwack it into the smokehouse door on the first throw. Each time he broke a rule, we put the knife away until the next day, amidst many tears and promises. This is one of those times when I can't be flexible...he either learns to do it safely, or doesn't do it at all.

I was so pleased to stumble across this great video about Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids confirmed what I've always known intuitively. I've had my share of judgmental looks and snide comments (when my kids do get hurt), but have held firm to the belief that I want my children to be able to assess danger and to approach the world as a big, cool place to explore rather than as a scary, dangerous place full of sharp edges. Yes, they're going to get hurt, and I don't expect my no-broken-bones record to hold forever. With guidance, good judgment, common sense, and loving supervision, I expect they'll learn more from "danger" than from constant cautions to "be careful".

And yes, we do let our kids drive the car down the driveway, on our laps, of course. Jude is learning to use the accelerator and brake pedals, and can shift gears on the van (with me operating the clutch)! Is this just a country thing? 

Go ahead, weigh in...what amount of "danger" are you comfortable with? What kinds of risks do you think are healthy for children? What dangerous things do you remember doing as a child? What did you learn from those experiences? Would you trade them for a bubble-wrapped childhood? Do tell!

PS Upon re-reading this post, I am reminded of Jude's approach to water. He did not like it at all, and it wasn't until the summer that he turned four that he showed any interest in wading or swimming. We didn't push him, trusting that he'd come around in his own good time. Remember that trusting in your child's comfort level is of the utmost importance (how many of you have heard of kids that were thrown into pools to help them conquer their fear of water?). Your child may not be into knives and fire. And that's okay! I have two fearless children, and one who is cautious. Nature or nurture indeed...


  1. A friend of mine calls my daughter "Kamikaze Corrine" I like that she isn't afraid of life. She's only 16 months old, so we'll see what life has in store for us.
    When I was a little girl we lived on a cattle ranch in Kansas and I "drove" the feed truck. Mostly I just steered. Later on when we moved to the mountains in Colorado I drove the tractor. It might just be a country thing. But it sounds like your kids are having a great time!

  2. My daughter has always been very cautious, and I've been careful not to push her into things she doesn't want to do. However, lately she's been much more interested in climbing! I try not to let my anxiety show, but I have to admit, the "big kids" play structure at the park seems very high to me. I have visions of her falling from the top and breaking her neck. My husband is much more at ease, and he encourages her up to the top. It's something I want to work on, but as a naturally cautious person myself, it's very hard to push my boundaries too :) But I'm happy to see that I haven't rubbed off on her much! Oh, and I've never lived in the country, but I think it would be fun to let the kids drive the car with my help (if we lived in the country, of course...!)

  3. I think the helicopter parenting and bubble-wrapping of childhood is a little sad - the world is a big, exciting place, and I am a parent who lets my children explore it. Dirt, mud, climbing up and falling down are a part of childhood - and it is really fun to watch my children experience it! My husband and I do set boundaries for safety, and we do enforce them, but the goal is to let our children explore and play at their pace.
    I had another parent ask me recently if I had been so relaxed with all my children (watching my 16 month old climb on the playground) - the comment was a mixture of envy and incredulity. I was pretty satisfied that I could answer yes (and not feel bad about it.)

  4. I pretty much let my kids have free reign over activities and didn't interfere unless my danger vibe started to twitch. My kids were running free through the woods as soon as they were steady on their feet. It saddens me to see how controlling and sheltering they are with their own kids. They are kept behind and fences and indoors. When they come up to the Valley they are afraid to venture out on their own, so much so that they rarely come. Somehow the city is safer?

  5. My parents used to let us stand on the flat bed of a half-ton pickup with only a metal rack behind the back window to steady ourselves as we drove from Silver Lake to Golden Lake. I don't see myself doing that with my kids, but I have to say, my brother and I loved it. Otherwise, I try not to coddle the boys, but sometimes, when I see them climbing very high or doing thinks that make me nervous, I just turn my head and trust them.

  6. are your kids vaccinated? do you think that matters? (mine aren't)... how big is your 1st aid kit?? :)


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