As a child, I’ve had my share of misadventures: I’ve impaled myself on a rusty three-inch nail, got ditched in an open manhole while learning to bike, and played atop a wooden table that flipped over and crashed down on my chest, rendering me unconscious. I've jumped off the stairs and landed on my face, cutting my lower lip, which needed stitches.
Now that I have two young boys, my eternal fear is to be contacted at work with the news that something bad has happened to them, just like the time, two years ago, when my eldest, Marlon, then eight, got bitten by a neighbor’s dog. I had to rush home and bring him to the San Lazaro Hospital for anti-rabies shots.
But, no matter my fears, keeping my children under lock and key at home is simply out of the question. Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, a family life and child development specialist, agrees: “Of course that’s not normal. In the real world, those kids will eventually grow up to be high school, college students. So when they meet people, matatakot yon. [They will think,] ‘Ay sabi ni Mommy it’s not safe outside.’ This is the real world -- sa labas. They will not be forever confined inside their house.”
Teaching life skills Surely, we don’t want our children to turn out that way, afraid to venture out, to explore, to test the waters. Avelino-Tandoc, who manages The Professor’s Nook Consultancy Services, says that parental over-protectiveness could produce “adult kids” who don’t know how to make decisions without Mommy or Daddy. She goes as far as to warn that there are only two possible consequences if you keep your child under your care 24 hours a day. “It’s either he will be scared to face the world and to solve his own problems, or he might rebel, thinking ‘Sinabi mong hindi puwede. Susubukan ko ito.’”
As much as possible, we parents want our offspring to become confident, independent, courageous adults who, as Avelino-Tandoc says, have the coping skills needed in dealing with real-life challenges and situations. So how are we going to do that?
It is not going to be easy. To raise an adventurous child, you have to be an adventurous parent. Are you willing to take the risk? Are you adventurous enough to see him with bruises?
At the same time, understand that adventurousness has its limitations. Says Avelino-Tandoc, “It doesn’t mean that when you say adventurous, we let him be. As parents we must have keen discernment. When do we enter the picture? When do we let go? After all, there’s a fine line between being adventurous and being reckless.” The key is to do a balancing act between taking risks and taking caution.
Brave new world How does one raise brave but discerning kids? Here are a few tips from our expert:
1. The younger, the better. Children are naturally curious about the world around them, and this curiosity is something to be encouraged, yet tempered for their own sake. Start teaching your child as early as in infancy about safety. Once he can already understand instructions, give him directions and constant reminders. Say “don’t touch this,” or “no.” Toddlers understand a firm voice and a firm look.
2. Secure the environment. May Denden, a mother of three, remembers the time that her youngest son found her collection of beads and inserted one inside his nose. “My husband and I panicked, naturally, and we had to tell him not to move as we removed the bead with tweezers,” she says. We can’t forever be keeping an eagle’s eye on our child, so make sure that there is nothing in his surroundings that could cause him danger. Remove small things that he can put in his mouth. Place safety plugs in electric sockets. Hammer a sturdy barrier against the door or the top or bottom of the stairs.
3. Know age-related developmental norms. When your child asks, “Mommy, can I use the bike?” you will have to consider what developmental tasks he should be able to perform at his age. What is expected of a two-year-old? What activities are right for a six-year-old? Specifically, know your child -- his capabilities, how he behaves, how he carries himself. After assessing all these, you can make an informed decision.
4. Teach him what to do. There are things beyond our power to control. Avelino-Tandoc says that she tries to teach her daughter not to be scared of dogs in their neighborhood. “I tell her, ‘When you see a dog, stoop down because the dog will think that you are picking up something to throw at it.’”
5. Practice makes perfect. Reminders are always useful, but what’s even more beneficial is to allow your child to learn from experience. A tot used to drinking with adult assistance, for example, will never learn to drink from a cup unaided unless he is permitted to do it by himself -- spills and all -- until he gets it right.
6. Tell stories. Children don’t need to experience everything to draw lessons from it. To drive home our point, we can use stories and examples. In the mall, you might point out to your son what would happen if he misbehaves. Says Avelino-Tandoc, “You could say: ‘See, that child was using her rolling shoes inside the mall. Not only did she fall, she even broke some items.”
7. Explain why. Tere Jacinto admits that she does nothing all day but yell for her kids to stop their kakulitan. “They keep teasing the cats, or run around the kitchen when I am cooking. I don’t understand why they can’t seem to follow or remember my orders. I don’t know if they are just hyper- active or if I am doing it wrong, but they are just impossible!” she blurts out. One reason why youngsters cannot understand the consequences of their reckless action is because their parents don’t bother to explain; they just say “no.” “Tell them that they shouldn’t play at the home section of the store because there are breakable stuff there,” says Avelino-Tandoc. “If you fail to do that, mapapagod ka talaga ng kahahabol sa kanya.”
8. Train him to speak up. If there’s anything he needs, your child should be able to ask for it. Avelino-Tandoc says she started with asking Millicent to request for ketchup at the restaurant counter. Initially, she says, her child was reluctant -- ”Mommy, nahihiya ako” -- but finally she did after it was explained to her that there was nothing wrong about speaking up. Millicent came back triumphantly holding up the prized item.
9. Follow up. And it’s crucial that parents follow up immediately after these little acts of bravery. You might say, “You see? If you’re shy you won’t have that ketchup to go with your food.”
Other child experts also offer these bits of advice:
10. See the situation as a challenge, not a problem. Pessimism is contagious. If you always view out-of-the-ordinary events as problems, your child will soon catch your defeatist attitude. He is worried about an upcoming Boy Scouts’ camp? Be cheerful. Say that it is indeed a challenge, but it is something that he will surely enjoy and learn from.
11. Let him be. Show your trust in his abilities by refraining from checking up on him every so often. Sending concerned text messages to your boy at camp, for example, will only tell him that you don’t really believe he can cope.
12. Give praise. Compliment your little one for overcoming his fears and doubts. When he comes back from camp, congratulate him and stress that if he has succeeded this time, he can also triumph in even more challenging situations in the future.
13. Be consistent. Be firm about what your child can and can’t do. Don’t tell him ‘no’ one day, then change your mind the next day. When you are consistent, your son will know you mean what you say. It is part of his training in self-discipline.
14. Give him your time. Kids don’t learn sometimes because their parents don’t make an effort to teach them. It’s much more convenient for us, especially when we’re in a rush, to do a task ourselves. If your child says that he wants to try to wash the dishes, you imagine the plates breaking, and so you simply cut him off. But in the long run, you are inhibiting his desire to take initiative.
Drawing the line Though difficult, it is important that we raise our child to be unafraid to make discoveries for himself. Avelino-Tandoc puts it this way: “I think it would really be good to raise an adventurous child as long as he knows the limits, which are set by the parents. If the child knows his limits, then we don’t have to be always there. We don’t have to panic because alam natin na kaya niya.”
As for the bad influences surrounding our children: Peer pressure may be strong, but “if you raised your child with self-control and self-discipline, the child can say no, even if iwanan pa siya ng mga kaibigan niya because you have trained her as a child on what is right, what is wrong, and the consequences of these,” adds Avelino-Tandoc.
You’ve got to have faith, too, not just in your child, but also in yourself, that you did your part. "Give reminders, apply the appropriate theories, set a good example -- then pray that everything goes well."