How Much Should We Scare Our Kids?

My daughter knows that she can’t walk in the street without me. She knows to hold my hand. And she knows that when we leave the grocery store, I say, “Brenna, make sure to stay with Momma. The cars are dangerous.” This week my adorable daughter looked up at me and said, “If I fall, the cars will hit me and my head will go squish.” I’m a little confused about where she picked up that particular warning. While I try to impress upon her the seriousness of safety, I’m positive I never used the word “squish”. 

A girl at Brenna’s daycare, close to her age, told us this morning that her cousin was at the hospital. Her mother explained that they’d been up late, worrying about a cousin who was having some tests run. Once the mother left, her daughter said, “Ellie’s at the hospital and people die there.” I was kind of astounded that such a grown-up concern needed to be shared with such a young child. The girl was obviously scared, upset and most of all, tired. At the same time, if the girl will be visiting her cousin in the hospital, it’s better to explain things ahead of time.

So are we doing our children any favors when we warn them about life’s dangers? Is there a certain age where children need to start taking a responsibility in their safety? I realize that once they get to school, innocent ignorance is out the window. Once my daughter hits that stage, I hope to be as completely open and honest as I need to be. But before that, should we be preparing our children for the dangers of what’s out there?

As a toddler, I want my daughter to know that hot things will burn you and streets aren’t safe. Aside from that, I try to make her feel comfortable in her surroundings. As her mother, it’s my job to look after her. She shouldn’t need to worry. My wise and all-knowing daycare provider says that children pick up on their parents’ phobias. A child will be afraid of thunderstorms if their parents behave as if thunderstorms are fear-worthy. She believes that some parents are training their children to be anxious and scared all the time.

A friend of mine was warning her daughter about strangers and “bad people”. Seeing that the girl was genuinely frightened, I said (helpfully, I thought), “But policemen keep bad people from hurting us.” My friend glared at me and whispered, “A molester can dress up like a police officer.” She then instructed her little one, “You trust Mommy and Daddy, honey. We’re the ones who protect you.”

I understand the desire to warn our children about how dangerous life can be. We really just want them to be aware and prepared. That’s what parenting is, right? Preparing our children for the future. But how soon do we need to shatter that innocent trust?

I love the fact that my daughter will converse will random people at the grocery store. I’ll hate the day that she learns a hospital does more than deliver babies. (It might be today.) And I hope she sees police officers as heroes that protect us. Someday, I’ll have to talk to her about all those scary things that might await her. But hopefully we can get to pre-school first.

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