By Roy Meredith
When my twin sons were about 12, they were obsessed with climbing and leaping from dangerous places: rocks, tall trees, bridges and waterfalls. On a family holiday travelling around Australia in 2004 the three of us climbed and leapt off everything we could find. It was fantastic! I taught them to check for dangers, judge risks and seek advice. They developed confidence to make wise decisions.
Two years later we were holidaying at a favourite summer beachside spot when I discovered that my sons had taken a group of younger boys down to the ocean jump rocks. A narrow crevice at high tide made a wonderful spot to leap off a 10-metre cliff into surging water; an ideal place for boys to test their mettle.
We had been there many times together, however, two facts about this particular expedition alarmed me. There were no adults present to anchor the younger boys’ bravado, and the swell had changed. Huge waves steadily pounded the coastline.
I raced to the beach, fearful of what would happen. Would they do something foolish? Would they be OK?
The goal of parents is not to simply get your children to adulthood in one piece, it is to help them be confident to handle risk maturely. This all begins when they are children.
As I raced across the headland to the rocks I met one of my sons coming in the opposite direction, calm and confident. “So did you jump? Is everyone OK?” I blurted out.
“Are you kidding, Dad? It was way too dangerous, especially for the younger ones. So we’re coming back,” he said.
Then the others came into view. The younger boys walked single file along the track following my Pied Piper son.
1. Learn how to hang around with children and watch them without giving constant direction.
The less you instruct the better. Instead ask questions that might help them weigh up the options. This way you are quietly encouraging common sense and wisdom.
2. The most powerful way to learn is to experience things ourselves.
We remember so much more readily because we have had to deal with the consequences ourselves. This is true for children. Bruises, cuts and broken limbs will mend. These will help us know our limitations and make wiser choices next time.
3. Try not to project your own fears on your children.
Of course you feel nervous when your five-year-old climbs a tree tall enough to seriously injure him if he falls. You have to say something … anything to allay your fears.
However, instead of saying “don’t fall” and “you’re really making me nervous”, it is better to say: “You’re holding on tight” and “you’re doing this carefully … well done!”
This instills confidence and helps reinforce good messages that will help your children in the future when they confront challenging situations.
4. Show children how to estimate the risks.
Do this by asking them questions before they attempt an activity. “How do you think you’ll do this?” “What would you do if …?”
After they have done something you consider was dangerous, debrief with them using questions. “Did you always feel safe? Why or why not? What could you do to be more safe next time?”
5. Sometimes it is OK to say no and stop the activity if you think it is too dangerous.
If this is infrequent then they will usually respond immediately. This will give you both time to calm down and assess the risk.