I’ll never forget the time I was babysitting for a bible study at a church we attended in another city. There was a man giving a personal safety/self defense course for the children, and he suggested that each family have a “magic” word to indicate a dangerous situation.
The poor child in front of me completely freaked out. Shaking, crying, screaming for his parents over the word “magic”. The caretaker next to me explained that his parents had warned him that magic was a very, very bad thing.
While these parents I’m sure had the best of intentions, what they inadvertently had done was instill in their child an irrational fear that caused him to have a full-blown panic attack, at the age of four. Because if you tell your child simply to be afraid, without teaching them when and why, you are doing them a great disservice and creating in them an unhealthy and unnatural fear of the world.
Now, granted, I don’t know the back story here, there very well may be much more to it than I could tell from this one incident, but it did get me thinking.
I was reminded of this a few days ago while playing outside with Henry, when we spotted a few bees buzzing about.
“Are they going to sting me Mom?” he asked.
I told him the truth: “Oh, probably not, but they may.”
“Have you ever been stung?”
“Yep, lots of times. It hurts but you will be fine. Don’t let them keep you from doing what you are wanting to do over there.” I responded.
See, I didn’t want him to be discouraged from investigating, exploring, learning…for fear of the bees.
This is the basis for a lot of our parenting style.
We let our boys run and roughhouse in the house…sure, we may scoop a vase of flowers out of the way, but that’s because I like that vase.
But we don’t discourage them. Quite the opposite actually. Because if we don’t allow them to do this while they are young, when will they ever learn how to run without falling?
See, I’d rather they bust their lips running, than not run at all.
…bloody a nose, than never wrestle.
…get a black-eye, than never jump on the bed.
…sprain an ankle, than never climb a tree.
I’d rather they die pursing their God-given passion, than suppress it in the name of safety or fear.
I actually insist that they are barefoot when outside, partially because it is a healthy way to ground your body…it’s called “earthing”…but that’s for another post. But I also don’t want them to think that every time they go outside, they need shoes, and socks, and a jacket, and a water bottle, and sunscreen, and their parent…I tell them that it’s good for their feet to get tough, to get some sun on their backs, to get dirty and taste the weeds and leaves. That if they need to pee, there’s a tree right over there.
When our babies are learning to walk, we don’t follow them around with anxious hands, waiting to break their every fall. Sure, we have a gate at the stairs, because otherwise, Miles probably would have killed himself – the boy has no fear…
What’s interesting and encouraging to me, is that countries where parents typically give their children a lot of freedom, and “be careful” is not a regular part of their vocabulary, have statistically less child injuries than areas where children are closely watched and overprotected.
We also downplay injury. Children will look to you when learning to respond to any situation. They fall, and immediately gauge your face. If you freak out, they freak out. If you say “whups! good catch!” 99% of the time, they will hop back up and try again.
Now for the hardest one:
There are bad guys out there, but we don’t teach “Stranger Danger”.
“Most people are good guys” we tell them “but these are the things to look for, things a bad guy would say/do”…and then we explain what those things are. It’s a harsh reality, but I don’t want our children to believe that everyone who is a stranger is looking to harm them. They are expected to be polite, say “hello” and look a stranger in the eye. They are not, however, required to hug anyone that they don’t want to. Children are given a natural discernment about people, and I want them to trust their wariness of someone that they feel threatened by.
Studies show that pedophiles tend to prey on children who appear fearful, timid, unaware of their surroundings, and easily influenced. We have told our son about some of the harsh realities of the world, and have given him full permission to beat the crap out of anyone who would try to hurt him in any way. To be alert and discerning, and to trust his instincts. To look to his parents for protection and guidance when needed, but not to live in fear.
Even though we are leaning towards homeschooling our children (mostly so they can be free to travel with my husband), the issue of them being too sheltered is our main hesitation. We actually want our children to be exposed to ideas and teachings that we don’t agree with, while they are young.
Henry will ask us “Is this true?” about something he has heard. Our response? “What do you think?” and the help him hash it out, with him leading the conversation. The last thing we want to teach him is that that A. we have all the right answers and B. he can’t think for himself.
We have also had this conversation:
Henry “Is dammit a bad word?”
Us “It’s not a very nice thing to say”
Henry “Can I say it?”
Us “Not yet. When you are a little older you can decide if it’s a word you want to say”
Henry “Ok. I don’t think I’m gonna say it”
Us “Ok. That’s probably a good decision.”
I often don’t answer him right away when he asks a question about where something is located, or something that I know he knows the answer to…I’ll wait a few minutes, and usually, by then, he has figured it out on his own. Or I’ll respond with “you are so smart, I know you can figure this out!” And he usually does.
Like I’ve said before, I could be wrong. But so far, our boys are confident, independent, bold, and already becoming discerning about people and situations.
I hope that our boys will be leaders. Heads of companies, the captain of their sport’s team (Henry was actually nicknamed “King Henry” at soccer this year by his coaches). We hope for our boys to be the Jim Elliott’s of the world, willing to risk it all for what they believe in.
They may do this with a few deep scars, calloused feet, jammed knuckles, and weathered skin; but I pray and believe that they will be at the forefront of whatever they are doing. Fearless men of God, passionately pursuing what they love and believe in.
That they will dive in, headfirst, despite the bees.
live well. be well.
***If you liked this post, you may enjoy reading A Boy and A Bus and God’s Future Men***