I had a conversation with my seven-year-old daughter yesterday. I noticed she had a bandage on her thumb, and I asked her how she got it (the stories of my child’s myriad injuries are always great).
She said, “I was using a sharp knife to cut a cucumber and I accidentally cut myself. It was GUSHING BLOOD.” (Note: That probably means there were three drops, as my daughter’s talent for hyperbole is well-documented.)
I said back, “Oh, then you need more practice. Remember to count your fingers before you start cutting so you keep track of where they all are, and remember that you shouldn’t have to press hard. If the knife doesn’t go into the vegetable easily, you’re using the wrong one.” She agreed, and confirmed that the knife had indeed worked easily, but she’d forgotten to count her fingers so her thumb was in the path of the blade. She assured me she’d remember next time.
We then rode along quietly for a few blocks (this conversation happened in the car) while I thought about that exchange. Then I commented to her:
“Do you know that there are parents out there that would have heard you tell you me that story, and because of it would have told you that you’re not allowed to use the knife any more until you’re older?”
She made a face not unlike this one:
We talked about that for a while. About how parents often see their kids make mistakes, and conclude immediately that a particular activity is beyond them or that they should be shielded from it. Too often parents think their job is to minimize harm – real and imagined, actual and potential – instead of to maximize learning.
I don’t want to raise porcelain dolls that are afraid of knives. I want to raise scarred, knife-savvy badasses. You need to exercise some judgement here – I’m obviously not handing a knife to my toddler – but overall I think we err way too much on the side of caution.
When the bandage comes off my Beansprout’s thumb, she’ll be no worse for wear. But the impact of the confidence she gets from my encouragement and support as she learns to command the world around her will last forever. The Beansprout has many amazing qualities – she’s kind, she’s smart, she’s charismatic. But my favorite of all her positive traits is that she is dauntless. Fearless and unstoppable. And it’s not born from a lack of realism – she’s fallen out of plenty of the trees she’s climbed, taken plenty of nose-dives off the back of her bike, gotten stung by the bugs she catches. It only makes her quicker, more resilient, more sure of herself.
When I see her dangling from a tree branch, every nerve in my body shouts at me to run over, to grab her, to shield her from the consequences of her actions. But instead, I steel myself and say “find your footing, swing over to the next branch. I bet you can go even higher.”
While writing this, the Beansprout came over and asked me what I was doing, and when I told her I was writing about her, she asked if she could write something:
My dad is the best dad in the world. My mom is the best mom in the world. Try your hardest at everything you do!
(The preceding was typed entirely by the Beansprout, including proper punctuation and capitalization, and with no direction from me. I only added the italics. Photo evidence below.)
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