Part of parenting is teaching our children how to negotiate their boundaries. This means letting them try and fail at some seemingly dangerous things.
By Daja, Contributing Writer
We live in a world where the guiding principle is “safety at all cost.” It begins when we are pregnant being told what not to eat, drink and breathe, lest something bad happen to our baby. We live in fear of that sip of wine or that bite of fish, unwittingly depriving ourselves of some joy and possibly our bodies of some nourishment.
But it doesn’t end there. As soon as our baby is born, we have the house childproofed, the list of emergency numbers handy and stop just shy of wrapping the child in bubblewrap. Our children never get on a bike, skates or scooter with a helmet, elbow and knee pads. They never play in the rain or roll in the grass. Never cross the street outside a crosswalk. They never play on a play structure unsupervised. Never climb up a slid or jump off a swing. They don’t use tools to build treehouses or to try to dig their way to China. They are safe. Safe, safe, safe. All the time.
That is until they are out of our sight or get out on their own. Then there is no end to reckless behavior. Check out the stats on college campuses. Young people do really reckless things. They push boundaries. They are wary of rules. Typically, they are not very good at weighing the risks of new ideas. They often don’t quite see the line between fun and danger.
Why is that? Often these are good kids who have been loved, fed and carpooled. But no one has ever given them the space, time and freedom to test their own abilities and boundaries. So their life and survival skills are not just rusty–they are untested.
Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do
I believe children should learn to do “dangerous” things. They should be able to find their limits, explore within their boundaries, be brave and the fail–while they are young! When the payout or risk is relatively minimal. When the stakes aren’t so high. Where we can help them to steward their failures, evaluate their choices and hone their skills.
I don’t want my children to live in a bullet-proof shell where they never have any life experiences. So, they should live “dangerously.” No, they don’t have to jump off buildings or take up extreme sports. There are plenty of things children for ages past have done that our children are completely capable of, if only we believed in them and let them try.
The lazy days of summer are a perfect time to try out some of these dangerous things. Here are seven things you add to your child’s summer to-do list:
There is just something about laying there under the stars (or in a tent) just you and your buds (or siblings) without your parents managing things. Time to find constellations, talk, try to figure out which nocturnal creature is making that weird noise. There’s a sense of mystery there in the dark where anything seems possible and you’re open to new dreams. Plus, sleeping out gives you the joy of waking up outside. Early mornings outdoors is a sort of deliciousness that few people truly get the experience.
“For thousands of years everyone, including children, carried basic tools and understood basic skills for survival such as building fires and shelters. Humans had a symbiotic relationship with the natural world where we took care of the earth and earth took care of us, it wasn’t feared, it was as real and a part of life as our homes are now….This means that young children were taught about fire, how to build and manage fire, how to cook over fire and about controlled burning of the forest.” (Ann Tepperman, Let Kids Play With Fire)
Part of the problem with fire is that it is not part of our daily lives. So, there is a mystique surrounding it. But with exposure to it comes a knowledge of its dangers and a healthy amount of respect along with appreciation! So, build a little fire ring in the backyard or get a fire pit from the garden store. Let them start a fire. Roast some marshmallows and watch the coals.
There is something very satisfying about sitting on the back steps with a good hunk of wood and a knife and whittling away. What kid doesn’t like to carry a great pocket knife? It feels enormously important and grown up! And not only pocket knives! Let them use the kitchen knives, too. Teach them good knife skills, which knives to use for which things, how to properly hold the item they are cutting. For thousands of years children have been able to handle knives because it was part of basic survival skills. Our kids can still do it today, we just have to teach them and trust them.
When we go to the playground, I find a nice spot on a bench or on my picnic blanket and I watch my kids play. I don’t tell them how to play. They play freely; I don’t organize games of ring-around-the-rosy or Simon Says for them. I don’t tell them not to climb the slide. And I don’t help them climb up the rope ladder or to come down the rope ladder (generally speaking). It is their play time. And mama interfering is just a drag. They learn quickly how to negotiate their little world. If they can figure out how to go up, they figure out how to come down. Their problem solving skills are being honed.
Then some other well-meaning parent on the playground starts “helping” them to make it through the challenges of the structure. Suddenly my kids are helpless. And they are calling from the bridge for someone to get them down. I must dodge the dirty glares from other parents as I say, “No, you made it up there, you can get down. Just try.” It’s not even “tough-love.” It’s believing in the ability and capability of your children that builds tremendous confidence and helps them to truly tap into their potential as problem solvers.
Use the Kitchen Toaster/Stove/Oven/Grill
Again, just as with fire and knives, children have been preparing their own food for millennia. It’s relatively recent in human history where children have been kept out of the kitchen and food prep was reserves strictly for the adults. Children can easily negotiate simple meals preparations utilizing various heat sources. They will learn a healthy respect for appliances and power and also appreciation for their mother’s cooking!
It’s fantastically challenging, gets the kids outdoors into sunshine and fresh air, it’s completely free and it’s a great exercise! Tree climbing belongs to childhood.
“But what if they fall???” Then they will do better next time after learning their boundaries.
Walk To Familiar Places
No, I’m not talking about sending your inexperienced, naive child lose in the middle of Los Angeles and saying, “Good luck with that.” I’m talking about, the corner market, that’s a block away and that you’ve been going to together for years. Give your child a couple bucks and let him walk there himself. Or her best friend’s house that is just around the corner and across the street. Do you have to drive? I bet she can get herself there on her own if given the chance.
Precautions When Doing Dangerous Things
At what age you begin letting your children do these dangerous things is completely up to you. As a parent no one knows your child better than you. Just don’t under-estimate your child because you are afraid. Fear is a terrible motivator.
Teach by example and instruction. Your kids should see your good example in doing these and other dangerous things. Model for them the good behavior you expect. And teach them as you do so. Explain why you are building the fire just that way. Explain how you are cutting that piece of wood away from your body and not towards. Quiz them in the car to see that they have a sense of direction and know where they are going. Teach, teach, teach. Use all those teachable moments before you set them loose.
Be ready to help them process potential failures. There will be times your child falls, burns his fingers, gets lost, etc. Be ready to help your child see and understand that failures are a part of life and that our job is to learn from them and to grow from them and then to never give up.