Monday, August 20, 2012

A Kid and His Pocketknife

I remember a dear friend, who used to cry "Danger!" to her toddler anytime he did anything, well, dangerous (e.g. toddling towards the road). It is, perhaps, the battle cry of all mothers, who instinctively protect their children from all harm. 
Jude was one of those kids who was always drawn towards danger. He climbed anything he found that had vertical footholds, and would squirrel butterknives away so that he could clang them together (to sound like a sword fight). He's not much into guns, but his interest in swords and knives has never really faded.

You can imagine his excitement when I picked out a nice little pocket knife for him, for our annual camping trip. The day before our trip, I showed him the knife, and had him practise opening and closing it safely. We repeated the safety "rules" over and over, as Jude has a language learning delay. We can express something that to us sounds clear, but he doesn't always get it the first time. Or even the second or third time. 
We've learned that much patience, repetition, patience, and understanding are required when communicating with our son. 

As we packed up the final gear, he asked if he could see his knife again. I reminded him again of safety, and walked to the sink. Before I reached the counter, he howled in dismay, running to the sink with a bleeding thumb. Sigh.

This is frustrating for me. Very frustrating. I felt that I'd been a responsible parent by talking with him lots beforehand, demonstrating safe knife use, supervising closely while he practised opening and closing, and setting limits (ie. the knife had to stay in my purse or in daddy's pocket, and he could only use it for cutting with close adult supervision). And still, he cut himself (if anyone out there is feeling smug, as in, "I would never have let that happen to my child, bite your tongue please...)
My husband came in and showed Jude the scar on his finger, from his first pocket knife. I realised that, perhaps, a cut on the finger is a rite of passage that many children don't experience anymore because of over-supervision.

Jude learned caution, only through hurting himself a bit. He spent the five days of our camping trip sharpening sticks into points so that we could use them for roasting marshmallows, into arrows, and into a stylus (which he burnt in a candle flame, to be used for drawing). 
I was inspired by this Ted Talks clip of Gever Tulley exploring the dangerous things we should let our kids do. 

Jude didn't cut himself again, in spite of much knife use over the time we spent camping. I'm a live and learn kind of gal myself...


  1. You know, I'm a firm believer that people learn most of their important lessons by doing. Granted, I wont let my daughter learn not to go in the road by getting hit, but I think the cut on his finger was a good lesson for your son.

    I get flack because when I take my daughter out on her bike, she has her helmet, but isnt bound up head to toe in pads. I always remember that we all mostly learned without helmets and pads. But I will say I do require a helmet.

    Lovely pictures.

  2. "Fifty Dangerous Things!
    You Should Let Your Children Do."
    I love Gever Tulley.
    Who hasn't cut themselves, either as a child,
    or as an adult? I think you did exactly right,
    demonstrating all the precautions, covering safety...
    sooner, or later, everyone has to try, and there are no
    guarantees. When my son cut himself with his pocketknife,
    the doctor admonished me thoroughly, concluding with "...never
    let him use a knife again!!" I handed it back to him right there...
    like you said, Live and Learn!

  3. "I realised that, perhaps, a cut on the finger is a rite of passage that many children don't experience anymore because of over-supervision."

    You are so right. We are terribly over-protective of our children. Cuts, bumps and bruises are bound to happen. In our zeal to keep them from any and all danger, I think we take away the joy of just being a kid, something that is so important!

    Good for you, mama. You're doing great!

  4. I also feel that letting kids just play outside in their creative world is great. Yes it may be a little dangerous at times but who hasn't done something they knew was dangerous, as an adult and as a kid? I still climb a ladder that isn't totally secure and I'm sure my mom would be there yelling at me to 'smarten up and get down'. I let me 4 and 5 year old out to play on their own on our farm and I know they are in the barn doing stuff that would make my heart stop but I also realize that like you we have to let our children learn some things on their own as well. Great post, I love hearing about other mothers not freaking out over stuff that was so 'normal' when we were kids but isn't acceptable now.

  5. I love this post. The important thing is that you did go over all the safety rules. Accidents happen. Kids get hurt - no matter what they may or may not be doing. As a child I accidentally stabbed myself in the leg with a very sharp pencil (while doing my homework)- it bled and bled and bled some more. It took us (my parents and siblings) forever to get the pencil tip out. Likely my brothers wanted to dig it out with their pocket knives!

    I still have the lead mark to prove it!! I was still allowed to use pencils after!

  6. Oh I love this post. It is so true that in trying to make the world "safer" for our children, we are actually making it that much more dangerous. If they never experience that small cut of the pocket knife, they never learn that knives are really sharp and can hurt you or someone else. My kids have been chopping in the kitchen with a real, sharp knife for a long time. Do they cut themselves? Yup and they learn to hold the knife and the vegetable properly so that next time that won't happen. It is part of learning. Better to have them deal with dangerous stuff in a supervised safe environment, than in hiding where they run the risk of really hurting themselves.

    --jennifer @dark blue dragon

  7. I can't ever remember NOT having a pocketknife in my camping bag when I was a child. I'm sure I must of cut myself a few times over the years but I also just cut myself 2 days ago while slicing an apple in the kitchen.

    Although boys especially often need to be reminded to use them as Tools not toys I think that whittling sticks is an extremely important childhood experience.


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