In our household, one of our “family rules” is that we do not allow horror movies within the walls of our home. To me, scary movies inject pretty evil and distorted images into my brain that are far more graphic than anything I could conjure up myself, and I don’t want to invite that in. In fact, if I think of the fears that pop into my head when I’m walking down the stairs in the dark or I hear a loud noise in the middle of the night, the fears stem from things I’ve seen and heard in movies and media, not the things I’ve experienced.
If our minds are SO impressionable, imagine how they are for our kids? When venturing outdoors with our kiddos, it can be natural to feel nervous, uncertain, or downright fearful (but be sure to check out my post on overcoming fear). These feelings are natural, but they can become toxic when we project them onto our children without self-awareness. Picture this: you’re meandering through a forest and your tiny human runs just out of sight….your heart beats a little faster and you’ve not got tunnel vision–get to your baby. It’s instinctual!
This isn’t inherently bad, but what happens all too often is that we frantically catch up to our kid and BAM! We drop our big ol’ bucket of fear right on their unsuspecting laps. We may yell or “raise our voice” (which is just a PC phrase for yell, my friend), and snap out some pointed question along the lines of, “what if you got eaten by a bear?” Woah. What? Eaten by a bear. Yup. We went there. Our five year old doesn’t grasp the concepts of predators, death, doom, or destruction, yet we’ve laid it all out there on the table for him to ponder. He still wears pull-ups, but we’re expecting him to ponder death and existentialism. He was mostly fixated on whether or not he could keep that cool rock he found, but now he’s looking around the forest fearful that he’s about to be a snack.
What we’ve just done is inject mature themes into an immature imagination. Was the bear scenario a possibility? Sure. Was it a likely scenario. Absolutely not….unless you’re treading through some backcountry Alaskan grizzly bear territory holding a flapping salmon, and then I’m likely to ask you to reconsider your parenting strategies. It’s tough, y’all. I’ve been there! My little one wanders too close to the icy lake and I have to make the conscious effort not to speak the things that come to mind: falling in the lake, drowning, death…it’s what I call the parenting spiral. You take a scenario that warrants caution, and it spirals through the channels of our emotional brains to quickly become imminent destruction. It’s like the Web MD spiral of the outdoor world.
Society conditions us to be doomsday fanatics over discerning humans, and in turn, we tend to perpetuate this fanaticism to our children. How do we stop this? Here’s what I suggest–keep your verbal descriptions of consequence age-appropriate. What I mean by that is this: instead of blurting out, “but you could fall of that cliff and die,” remove your child from the danger first and foremost, then take a minute to breathe. When you’re in control of your emotions, ask your child, “what do you think could happen to you if you fell?” A five year old won’t likely have the capacity to answer that he could be gravely injured, but he does have the ability to say something along the lines of, “I could fall and get an ouchie.” Great….your goal is accomplished. You have instilled the lesson that there is consequence to action without sowing fear and doom into your child’s innocent mind. By asking your child what they perceive the potential consequence to be, you’re ensuring that you’re not inserting ideas into his head that he’s not yet thought about.
Parents, it’s OKAY to react when our kiddos put themselves in an unsafe reaction. It’s ok to feel a rush of protective emotions. What will help, however, is taking a moment to pause, and to be mindful of our reactions towards our children. After all, they’re watching how we react to stress and cope with our emotions. Let’s make the effort to parent from a place of discernment, helping our kids learn the wisdom and judgment of action/consequence without planting seeds of doom, destruction, death, and chaos. Let’s raise a generation of nature-loving kids who learn to see the outdoors through a lens of wonder, excitement, and rejuvenation instead of fear, uncertainty, and danger. Let’s raise them wild.