Let’s loop back to “teaching children how to deal with these situations” and “teaching children how to spot danger.” These are also both prudent steps to take in child-rearing, and ones that I personally feel too few parents think about BEFORE there’s a problem. Possibly because it seems too much like Living In Fear… because it IS acknowledging – to your young child – that there are bad things and bad people in this world and we have to deal with them.
In my world, these things are lumped into our general Preparedness, which we’ll tackle next. I’ve systematically taught Wally over the last few years (since he was 3) things like his phone number and daddy’s cell phone number, what to do if he needs help and mommy can’t help him (not mommy WON’T help him, which is different), what is and is not an emergency, how to handle people he does not know, keeping an eye out for dangerous situations, talking to mommy or daddy about things he’s not sure about or that look dangerous, what to do if he thinks he sees a gun, what to do if he realizes he’s lost mommy and daddy in public, what to do if he runs into trouble while hiking, taking care of his sister, and a million other situations. We drill these situations when possible. Yes, I have faked passing out on the floor and hidden the phone so he can practice trying to wake me up, finding the phone, and calling daddy for help. I’ve had him practice calling 911 but without pressing the “call” button on the phone. I’ve left my (unloaded) gun on the table and walked away to see what he’d do when he saw it.
He sometimes errs on the side of being too cautious, that is his nature. He has always been a cautious child. So this means that often, he lets me know of situations he thinks I should be aware of – usually involving his strong urge to protect his sister – that aren’t a big deal. But the child is 7, and I’m GLAD he is erring on the side of caution at this age, rather than, you know, noticing his sister’s fighting off a lion but deciding she’s OK and not telling me, lol. He is not fearful. He’s pretty good about being honest when he’s afraid of something, even if he feels silly about it. He just wants me to be aware because he knows that, at 7, he can’t handle many things on his own yet. The things he can handle, he does. (Again, it is his nature, and always has been, to prefer other people handling things for him. He will still seriously ask me to get him a drink when he is perfectly capable of getting one himself. So yes, he does still have a tendency to want someone else to handle some things that he COULD handle himself. But I think part of that comes from experience – when he’s upset, he has poor judgement, and he at least realizes that now and does what I’ve told him to do for YEARS, which is come ask for help.)
Even though I have a lot of confidence in him and his ability to handle himself, I still do NOT have confidence that he would even recognize the danger of stumbling into a drug deal, or an adult who wants to hurt him. If an adult was following him around a park, I have no idea what he’d do.
Because, you know, that “stranger” thing is HARD. There’s a lot of nuance to it. It’s NOT ok to tell your name to strangers. Except kids you meet at the park, that’s OK. It’s NOT ok to take candy from strangers, except the cashier at the grocery store, that IS OK. And because there is so much nuance to it, there’s a lot of room for error. What if the drug dealers at the park are super friendly and offer to push him on the swing? He’d probably think that was awesome. And, again, THAT IS WHY HE HAS PARENTS!
And then there are situations that no amount of preparation, no amount of teaching him how to handle it – or just letting him experience it and learning how to handle it from experience – will help. What if the strange guy in the tree followed him into the bathroom and tried to overpower him and rape him in there? (it happens) He’s 7. He cannot physically fend off someone twice his size, even with his kung fu knowledge, lol. I don’t think I could fend someone off in that situation, though I would certainly try. So, once again, this is why my kids have parents. Another family rule of being in public places is that he has to tell me if he is going to the bathroom and I’ll go over with him. I don’t have to go in with him, though he sometimes wants me to, but I will go over and stand outside. Call it a holdover from when I was a child, and there was a situation where a child was molested in a public bathroom and my mom instituted a similar rule.
Are all of these things “living in fear?” Am I teaching my child to live in fear by teaching him about the realities – even the dark, seedy ones – of the world in which we live? I don’t think so.
In addition, I would assert that a certain amount of fear is HEALTHY. People who are not afraid of being hit by a car run into the street without first checking for traffic. People who have no sense of fear related to fire tend to burn things down with their carelessness. (Fear of forest fires keeps campers putting out their fires and prevents forest fires, for example.) Fear of the water when you can’t swim prevents you from drowning.
I would further assert that the key to parenting is not to teach your children not to have fears, not to teach them to never fear or to avoid fear. It’s teaching your children to recognize fear, to accept it, to embrace it, and to take steps to overcome it, if overcoming it is reasonable.
What does all this have to do with Livin’ For The Apocalypse? next.