Fear and (farm) Kids: A Super Combination!

If I were some weird version of a superhero, my name would be Worst Case Scenario Woman.

My power would be to think of the worst possible outcome of any given scenario, and then take it up one more level and think of something even worse.

Oh wait.  I already do that.

(so… yay?)

#plant15 – a.k.a. the 2015 spring planting season for farmers – has begun.  It hasn’t begun for us, specifically, but we have many a neighbour and friend who are already in the fields either preparing to plant or actually planting.  We have had some great weather here lately; a bit of rain, lots of sun and even a few 20+ degree days.  The grass looks like a 1970s shag rug (it’s driving me mental; where is my lawn mower?) and you can see a greenish haze throughout larger clumps of trees where they are beginning to bud.  So far, the 2015 food growing season is shaping up to be a good one.  It’s awesome!

Now, as awesome as springtime can be around a farm, it’s also a worrisome time.  Not that I don’t worry all the time – ahem, as per my superpower – but it seems that my worrying tends to get cranked up during the spring and fall.  Why?  Because spring and fall are overly busy times for those who farm for a living despite farming (any time of the year) being one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  And many of my loved ones happen to be farmers.

Since becoming an official farm girl, I’ve learned that farm safety starts being instilled in you practically while you’re still in utero.  Accidents can happen anywhere, at any time, while you’re doing anything.  But the risk is even greater when there is large, heavy, loud, awkward machinery involved.  So it is absolutely imperative that you learn, at a very, very young age, how to stay safe on a farm.

I’m sure everyone has their methods of teaching their own kids, farm or otherwise, how to stay safe around home.  But for us, it’s a matter of instilling fear.  Whether it’s the fear of how loud the machinery is or the blessed fear of God, I don’t care – when it comes to kids and farm safety, fear is a good thing.

# # # #

Our kids are pretty young – almost 3 and 15 months.  Both have their own idea of what they can and can’t do (Read: should and shouldn’t be doing) when we’re outside to play.  They both have different levels of independence which is interesting to see change as they keep growing.  Our daughter, the 3-year-old, is my Listener.  She does what she’s told (most of the time) and has been fairly simple to teach when it comes to staying safe on the farm.  She knows to get onto the grass in the backyard or onto the front steps of the house when she hears or sees someone – truck, car, milk truck, tractor, whatever – coming down the driveway.  She knows to walk at the wall in the barn, to stay away from the stable cleaner at all times and to always tell us where she’s going while we’re in the barn together.  And just so we’re clear, she is never by herself outside or in the barn.  Both of our kids are always with somebody.

Our son is a whole different ball game.  At 15 months, he’s been walking completely on his own for about 2 weeks now.  And he loves it.  You can just see his thoughts of pure freedom as he dashes across the backyard after his much faster, more agile big sister (before promptly falling on his face).  It’s truly awesome to witness.  But bringing him outside to play or into the barn has quickly gone from easy-peasy to makes-me-queasy.

I realize that he is only 15 months old and has zero concept of danger versus safety and all that stuff.  But I also know he’s not an idiot.  And he is extremely strong-willed.  If he’s walking too close to the cows, I will just quietly steer him away, telling him gently to walk at the wall.  Or if we’re going for a walk around the driveway outside and he’s going one way (usually towards the barn) but my Huz is bringing the mixer and tractor back up the driveway, I will tug on his little hand to change his course… Can you say hello to the Toddler Tantrum?  And the Massive Meltdown?  It’s like the end of the world if you even think of trying to tell him what to do or where to walk.

Lord help me when he’s 16 and driving.

One thing he does respond to is fear.  Not that he’s had any close calls in the barn or anything.  But when he is startled or is confronted quickly or abruptly with something he’s unfamiliar with, he get scared.

And I love it.

I love it because he’s showing me his ability to recognize that the unfamiliar isn’t always good at first, that he needs to figure it out for himself before he goes running towards it, arms outstretched (and I do mean running).  I feel very strongly that kids need to understand what fear feels like in order to truly understand how to stay safe, and how that feeling of fear helps them do that.

# # # #

Remember how I said my daughter is my Listener?  My son is my Do-First-Think-Later-er.  As my aunt told me this past weekend, he’s a Button Presser (literally and figuratively); in other words, he’s very curious and always moving.  It amazes me how different my kids are from one another, seeing as they were both made by the same two people.  Our daughter is thoughtful, careful and even-tempered; our son is independent, bold and busybusybusy (and, let’s face it, a bit of a snap show).  So the only thing Huz and I thought of that would work for teaching safety, that would sink in to our two very different kids is to make them scared.  Not so scared that they never want to go in the barn or on a tractor or venture out from underneath their favourite fuzzy blankets.  But scared enough that they will, at the very least, think twice before running toward a high risk situation (i.e. a tractor that’s backing up, the busy county road in front of our house, a One Direction concert).

Children are naturally curious, so it would be a shame to dampen that curiosity by teaching them to be afraid of everything and never take risks so they stay safe.  That’s not my point here, and not at all what we’re doing with our kids.  Believe me – I am already trying to ready myself for the day when one of my kids walks up to me holding a garter snake… (cue me panicking, barfing, then passing out).

My point is that, as parents, it’s our job to teach our children about safety and how to keep themselves safe, whether that’s on the farm or in town, on the bus or walking to school, riding in the car while their best friend drives or getting behind the wheel themselves.  Fear is a good teacher.  Fear teaches kids there are risks and limits to the things they want to do, and that some of those risks can be overcome and some of them can’t.  If fear can help a child understand the risks of what they do then they will hopefully make better decisions to try to avoid the major risks – and how to overcome the less-risky ones – while still having fun in life.

And in the mean time, I, Worst Case Scenario Woman, hope to someday lose my superpower (but I’m not holding my breath).

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