My most memorable experience with fire happened when I was nine On my birthday, which was less than a week before the first day of school, I got a bright blue wrist watch, a shiny key on a shoestring around my neck and instructions to get home after school and stay there until my parents got home 5 or 6 hours later.
One of the many exciting parts of this new arrangement was lunch. No boring sandwiches and borsch for this sophisticated nine-year-old. I liked to get creative. My favorite invention was Sautéed Crackers. Mom said I should have a hot meal for lunch, no snacking on crackers. So day after day I cooked crackers for lunch because if crackers are sautéed, it’s not snacking anymore, it’s a meal. I would melt a chunk of butter in a hot pan and sauté crackers, careful to flip them with a fork until both sides were golden brown. Then I would eat them fresh out of the pan, often streaked with black burns, but still delicious and so … exotic.
On one particular occasion, I had the misfortune of running out of butter before the crackers achieved just the right shade of gold. Without thinking twice, I grabbed a bottle of vegetable oil and poured it into the pan. If you are familiar with this particular reaction, you might imagine what happened. The oil caught fire setting the whole pan ablaze. So, I did what seemed like a reasonable next step. I grabbed a glass of water and threw it over the fire. Gasp! A burning flame of oil shot all the way to the ceiling. It was not fire anymore, but a raging inferno!
I still don’t understand how I got out of that experience with my body intact. One lesson you can glean from this experience is that kids, even relatively well-behaved kids, find a way to get into trouble. I’m sure my parents never imagined the above would ever happen. Another lesson is that even when crazy things happen to kids, they usually end up okay. Kids are indestructible after all. Except when they are not.
I’m a cautious parent. Tirelessly and relentlessly I examine every situation looking for potential problems and dangers. The only problem with being cautious is that there is an inexhaustible number of “potential” dangers in the world, and as the number of children in my family increases, so do the potential problems.
I want my kids to experience life, make mistakes and learn to use life’s physical and mental boo-boos as stepping stones to the top of their Everest. Yet, I’m there, under the monkey bars with my heart racing, because those monkey bars are much higher than I want them to be. And in my mind’s eye, I can see clearly how things can go wrong. I bite my tongue. I stifle the “be careful” that is searing a hole in my tongue. That “be careful” that will make me feel better because, if I said it out loud nothing bad can happen. That “be careful” that will not make my kids act more careful because for them it’s just a sound that mom makes when she is being irrational.
When it comes to parenting, there is no easy recipe for success. The best wisdom comes from experience. But I know that there is a better way than lying in bed at night fretting about all the things that can go wrong because our kids lack our experience. The better way is to give kids the tools that will help them look out for themselves.
Six tools your kids need to look out for themselves
1. Decision-making skills
Ideally, it ‘d be good to teach kids about all the dangers out there, all at once, so we could relax and breathe a sigh of relief. But even we don’t know every danger, and we cannot always be there. The ability to make good decisions is an important life skill.
Teaching your kids to make decisions is one of those things that sounds good, but is very hard to implement. You might be short on time or patience. You know what’s better for them, so “just this one time” you decide for them. Besides, it’s so hard to watch them make a decision that you don’t agree with.
The best time to start teaching decision-making skills is when kids are young, and the cost of making bad decisions is minuscule. After all, what’s the price of wearing Star Wars underwear on top of pants to the park? Start with the Playful approach and move on to this eight-lesson guide with your kids (you will learn from it too).
I used to think that instinct is a little voice inside my head that doesn’t want me to have any fun. It liked to tell me “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” It was also very judgmental and came up with things like, “I don’t trust this girl. There is something wrong with her. Stay away.” But I just met her, I would object, I don’t know enough about her to make that kind of judgment!
It turns out I did. Years later I learned that instinct is largely a subconscious mechanism that picks up on million little details that are not available to a rational mind. When I looked back on my life, I realized that there was more than one occasion when I overrode my instinct with a “rational” thinking only to get myself in serious trouble.
Kids need to know that a little voice inside their head that tells them that something isn’t right should be respected until the can check it over with mom and dad. Of course, they wouldn’t be checking with mom and dad all their lives. That’s what childhood is for: to learn enough about the world to keep them safe as they grow older.
Do your kids know what to do if they are lost in a crowd? Or when someone’s touch feels “weird”? The most profound books on this subject I ever read are The Gift of Fear and other survival instincts that protect us from violence and Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe, both written by a crime prevention expert who evaluates threats to some of our world’s most influential people. The book will help you to teach kids how to tell the difference between unwarranted fear and a gut instinct. Plus, how to read danger signals, how to approach a stranger, and what steps to take so you will not become a victim of crime. I think this book should be a must-read for all parents.
3. Learning from mistakes
They say wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from bad decisions. Sure with my almost forty years of life’s experience, I can make better decisions than my little kids, but my days of making decisions FOR my kids are numbered. So they better start practicing while the consequences are still small. Besides it’s important to remember that what seems “small” to us as parents may be pretty “big” to our kids.
Last year we started a family movie night tradition. Each Sunday we make popcorn (sometimes even a fancy one, like bacon/cheese or cranberry caramel) and watch a good old comedy like Honey I shrunk my kids or an adventure like Homeward Bound. Movie night is much anticipated, constantly talked about, and hotly discussed during dinners. The rule is that all the schoolwork for the week must be done before the movie starts. If the schoolwork is not done, the child is banned from the movie and has to stay in their room upstairs. Can you imagine the devastation and heartbreak of sitting alone in your room listening to all the fun happening downstairs without you?
To be honest, it hasn’t happened yet. I can just see it in my mind’s eyes, the quivering lip, a tear running down their cheek. Would I be strong enough to say, “Rules are rules. You can’t watch a movie with us this week.”? Giving in is easier. Parents are wired to make their kids happy. But sometimes letting them make a mistake, and teaching them how they can learn from it, is the best thing we can do for our kids.
When kids are responsible for cleaning up after themselves, they are less likely to engage in risky behaviors that can lead to messy consequences. Like with everything else, it starts small. In our house spills happen on a regular basis. Even my smallest children know to run, get a cloth and wipe up. As soon as my kids learn how to walk, they become responsible for picking up their toys. My kids clean their rooms, get their snacks, and sort their clean laundry. My eight year old washes his laundry, and when he is hungry, instead of coming to me, he can warm up leftovers or put together a simple meal, boil himself rice, oats or make an omelet.
I think parents often underestimate how much responsibility their kids can handle. When kids don’t expect parents to jump in and save them, they are more likely to think things through before they leap. Dalai Lama said it best: “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.”
When most parents think about a close relationship with their kids, they picture strong family ties and a pleasant family environment. But the benefits of a close relationship with kids goes much further to include an internal sense of connectedness that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Human beings are social beings, and even introverts have a need for closeness and support. When kids have that subjective sense of connection, they approach life’s decision from that comfortable place of belonging. They know what true connection feels like and they don’t feel a need to compromise to win approval. They don’t need to run with the crowd to avoid social isolation.
A good time to start building that connection is right now. Here is a good place to get some workable ideas.
Some of the most famous studies on self-esteem in kids demonstrate that kids with healthy self-esteem can resist peer pressure and thus have the courage to say ‘no’ even when it can lead to ridicule. Helping kids foster self-esteem is not an easy task, and according to some sources (The Self-esteem Trap), there is a fine line between self-esteem and self-importance.
However, there is no arguing that there is a direct link between how the child feels and how the child acts. So, if you don’t want your kids to act out, promote a healthy self-image. This article will help you lay a strong foundation.
If you consistently, and mindfully, work on the techniques above, you will equip your kids with skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Those skills will help them make better decisions and keep themselves safe when you are not around. It means you can fret less about potential problems that could befall your child. And of course, don’t forget to teach your kids not to throw water on a grease fire. To extinguish a grease fire cut its oxygen supply because all fires need oxygen to burn. Cover a pan with a tight lid or another pan, pour baking soda (and lots of it) on fire, or in my case, I was saved by a drunk veteran next door who took the fire out by throwing his ex-army combat jacket on the pan.
Are you a cautious parent? Share in the comments below.
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