By Kenny Peavy
If you were born sometime around 1980 or before you most likely spent your childhood outdoors playing, exploring and gallivanting around your neighbourhood. If you were lucky your neighborhood had a mysterious forest that beckoned to be explored!
Sadly, that is rarely true these days.
Right around the turn of the millennium, in the year 2007, as estimated by someone that keeps track of such things in the United Nations, something historic happened and went unnoticed. Most of us didn’t even realise it happened, but it has had a profound effect on us and, especially our children.
For the first time in human history, more people were living in urban areas than rural areas. With more folks in cities and suburbs they had less access to Nature and natural spaces on a daily basis. This means less free-range outdoor play for most kids. Less unsupervised time to roam around in Nature to get lost, fall down, get scraped up and get up again to keep exploring and playing.
The tragedy to all this is that kids are getting less exposure to age appropriate risks and risky play in natural settings. They’re no longer pretending to be Steve Austin The Million Dollar Man or Evel Knievel and expending energy and learning while running full speed to test out the limits and balance of their bionic legs.
If we want our kids to learn their limits and grow up to be resilient adults, we need to let them test those limits in risky play by climbing trees, jumping ramps, riding bikes and sliding down muddy slopes.
Last week my 9-year-old daughter flipped her bicycle. She ran up to the house crying and screaming. Sure enough, she had a bruised clavicle. Pretty painful I imagine with plenty of tears and whelps of pain to accompany the accident. We checked the injury and she still had mobility in the shoulder and arm. No bleeding. No trauma anywhere else. Even so, we went to the clinic for a check. It was all fine and she’s healing well.
Since then, we’ve had several discussions on why and how she flipped her bicycle. What she learned from it. What she would do next time and how she might avoid flipping her bike in the future.
Needless to say, I too have flipped my bike spectacularly many, many times. It comes with the territory of playing outdoors. So, I could relate and offer advice and stories from my personal experience too!
Now she wears her accident as a badge of honor. She said outright and truly believes she’s a tough girl. More confidence coupled with the experience of an accident means cautious and informed confidence. Experience and wisdom for the next time, which will surely come at some point.
So how do we raise resilient kids?
First, you’ve got to overcome your own fear as a parent or teacher. Get outside and fall down yourself.
No one wants a tragic or serious injury but if we learn our personal limits and test our boundaries early on then we’re much less likely to make mistakes or errors in judgement that lead to the bigger and more serious injuries.
Take it stepwise and walk barefoot in the forest. Climb a few trees. Hike up some steep hills. Learn your personal limits and boundaries.
Your kids will naturally take risks and want to jump and climb. Let them learn their limits. You can create a safe, yet challenging environment by letting them make mistakes and learn from them.
They will inevitably fall down and get scraped up. It comes with the territory. But they will learn from it and become more resilient in the process. As an added bonus, they’ll learn their personal limits and push the boundaries of their comfort zones too!
Lastly, learn basic first aid, wilderness first aid and how to deal with emergencies. Not only will this increase your knowledge of what to do in the event of an accident it will also increase your confidence and expand your comfort zone for letting your kids and students learn, play and explore outdoors in Nature.
None of us wants a serious accident but at some point, we all fall down.
The trick is learning to get up and try again!
Kenny Peavy is an environmentalist who has a memoir called Young Homeless Professional. He has co-authored a pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places.
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