This summer in Florida has been rainy. Lots of rain. Now that fall is here it is a lot sunnier, but the grass and weeds in the ditches and woods are high. Which means one bad thing. Snakes. I was eating lunch with my uncle, a farmer, last week and he said that when his children were in elementary school he used to warm them about snakes on the playground (which backed up into the woods). He said he’d tell them to be careful and watch where they were going near the wooded areas because snakes were out and crawling. My first response was “oh my goodness, that would scare them” and my second was “hmm, better to be a little scared than a little snake bit.”
Then just yesterday the neighbors (and dear family friends) came over to swim and said their 8 year old had been walking her dog down the dirt road and the dog had been bitten by a snake. Twice. She had done the right thing and walked slowly away. Now, that might have been the point at which they refused to let their 8 year old outside. But, no. They bought her thick boots and snake guards for the legs. They explained the dangers, further rained her how to react and helped her continue her normal activities safely.
This got me thinking about how we can teach our children real life truths without scaring them.
(1) Fear is not always bad. Fear is actually a helpful emotion. I’m not talking about irrational fears or fears related to anxiety, but the emotion of fear when linked to a potentially dangerous situation. If you see a lion and think “What’s the biggie? I watched the Lion King, he’s probably going to sing here in a minute,” then you are foolish. If you see a lion or a snake or a man with a gun then the best bet is to hightail it out of there. If your child didn’t feel the healthy fear, or hadn’t been explained the dangers, then they are not likely to react in the best way.
(2) Stories. Stories are a great way to explain concepts to children in a way they can understand. Franziska at Home Naturally has a great story she used to help bring her daughter security who was waking in the night. The hard truth may be “I’m not going to come into your room 3 times a night until you leave for college” but that is not a wise approach for a young child who is experiencing anxiety in the night. Instead, she told a story to help illustrate that she was, in fact, being watched over even if her mother wasn’t right there. We can use stories as a jumping off point to explain things to our children. It brings it to their level and gives us a way in.
(3) Real life lessons. In Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours the author says he uses real life lessons to teach to his kids. He gives a funny (maybe, or maybe not) example of teaching his children how important it is to not go into the road. When he passes roadkill he points it out and says, “this is what can happen if you run into the road or don’t look both ways.” Now, that may seem harsh and unnecessarily scary, and of course as always, balance is key. However, I think it’s a valid point. The fact is what he says is true. It could be phrased in a better way, such as explaining that it happened to that animal because that animal didn’t look both ways, etc. but it is an effective way to teach a subject. I’d rather my child be more cautious when crossing a road than less cautious, wouldn’t you?
(4) Rest on the security you bring in the day to day. If you are reading this then you probably are a concerned and caring parent. You can rest on the security and strength you are building into your children daily and trust that they can handle things. Last night Pickles (my 2 year old) was walking around the pool (not swimming) and cut the corner too close. Her leg went in, she hit her chin on the side, and fell underwater. I was right by her and got her out after about half a mississippi, but she was pretty shocked. We sat on the swing and cuddled and she was okay in about two minutes. I was still crying about ten minutes later. Honestly, it was more shocking for me than it was for her. I underestimated her general level of security and thought this would turn her into a total wreck. It didn’t. I, of course, will have recurring nightmares about her facial expression underwater and retreated to the toilet to cry. No big deal. A mother’s plight.
Though we are God’s children and He promises to take care of us, He doesn’t say we won’t face trouble. In fact, He says we will (John 16:33). So will our children. Sheltering them (I’ve written on the difference between protection and over-protection here) will only mean they don’t have the tools necessary to overcome and face many challenges they will inevitably come upon. We mothers have to be wise in what we tell our children and it must be age appropriate, but we must not shy away from telling them things they need to know. They need to know that strangers are dangerous. They need to know crossing the street requires caution. And they need to know snakes bite. But, mama, that’s why we get them snake guards.