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If you are a parent, chances are you’ve spent more than a little time worrying about your children. It’s normal and it’s healthy to be concerned about the safety and well-being of our children. We are given a great responsibility when we are blessed with children and those of us who take our responsibility seriously are likely to have some concerns about keeping our kids safe.
The problem begins when we worry so much that we become anxious or we make decisions based solely on the emotion of fear. Fearful parenting clouds our judgment and leads us to parent in a way that may pass on our anxieties to our children. This type of parenting does not set up our children for success and it may actually cause them to lose their natural instincts for safety.
Did you know that all of us are born with innate safety instincts? It’s that “spidey-senses” feeling you get in a situation that lets you know that something is not quite right. I believe that mothers are gifted with a generous amount of this instinct and that enables them to properly care for their young. However, the media manipulates that instinct on a daily basis by presenting everything bad that has happened in the world. It leaves many parents feeling as if the world is a horribly unsafe place for children. This leads us to both limit our own children and judge other parents’ decisions harshly. It’s a recipe for a scared world that may not actually be as scary as we think.
When my children were younger I suffered from what I now realize was an abnormal amount of anxiety concerning their care. It was very difficult for me to trust anyone besides my husband or our mothers with my children. My youngest child was six before we used a babysitter for the first time. Still, I was eventually able to turn things around so that I did not pass my anxieties on my children. Here are some of the things our family has put in place in order to practice fearless parenting.
1. Teach Safety, Not Fear
We teach our children what to do in case of emergency. We explain the difference between an emergency situation and a “kind of a big deal” situation. We explain the steps to take to remain safe in each type of situation. To give children information about how emergencies are more likely to occur and what to do if an emergency happens helps to lessen their anxiety, as well.
2. Stop Worrying About What Other Parents Think
In the past I have curtailed my children’s freedom in some situations based solely on what I imagined other parents might think. Stories like this one make us think that other parents are watching us all the time and are ready to label us a bad parent if our standards differ from theirs, even if there is no real threat.
If you are the kind of parent who is judging other parents on what you perceive to be unsafe parenting practices, now is the time stop. It seems to me that we can do more good by helping to watch out for children who are unsupervised for whatever reason than we can by reporting these parents to the police and disrupting a family’s life.
3. Think Critically and Back Up Your Worries With Proof
If you’re going to spend time wallowing in your anxiety, at least be able to provide proof that your anxieties are founded. Don’t just listen to the media’s account of stories. Research the facts. Figure out the statistics and you’ll probably see that the likelihood of most of the dangerous situations you fear is slim.
This practice starts before birth. If you are currently pregnant and wading information concerning childbirth practices, vaccinations, co-sleeping and many more, do your research. Your research should rely on more than what you read in the newspapers and catch on the evening news.
4. Monitoring is Fine, Hovering is Not
Be aware and be prepared. Then relax.
It’s really that simple. If have prepared yourself and your children by using the steps I’ve already listed, then there is no need to hover over them as they walk to a friend’s house, go to the park alone or stay home while you run to the store.
5. Provide Your Child With A Mobile Phone
The best solution for monitoring without hovering is to provide your child with a cell phone. It doesn’t have to be expensive — prepaid is great. If your eight year old is walking down the block to a friend’s house or your ten year old wants to go play at the neighborhood park, send them with a phone. You can check in with them, they can check in with you. It’s an important step toward empowerment and self-assurance and it will help to lessen your worries.
6. Practice the Buddy System
When we are traveling for soccer games with my oldest son, my 10 and 8 year olds like to go to the sports complex playgrounds while I watch the game. Our deal is that, if the playground is more than a quick run from me or my sight of them is limited, they must go together (and often, bring a cell phone). (The buddy system is for restroom breaks, as well.)
If one child were to sustain an injury, the other child could come get me. In the unlikely event that they are approached by a stranger, they can reinforce each other with the tools we’ve given them for dealing with strangers.