Thursday, January 12, 2012

Danger, again

New Zealand might be good for our family in more ways than I expected.
For different diagnostic reasons, both my elder children have an incompletely developing sense of danger.
Because they're bright, I have to assume that one day this will kick in: that they will work out that say, traffic really ISN'T worth running into, that Mummy isn't just being silly about that hot stuff in the kettle, and that you really could hurt yourself quite badly if you threw yourself down the stairs. But at the moment, life is complex, because the sense of danger absence thing means that I have to be careful of an awful lot that other parents take for granted: trips to the park, trips to the supermarket, other people's houses etc, all have to be planned and executed with meticulous care. This is obviously exacerbated by having three little boys: two is easier, and one even easier still. So this week, when I got two opportunities to take just the older two out on their own, I grabbed it.
The first time we went to the wood (they call it "reserve") at the bottom of our road. There was a path, and a river, and bridges: so far so good, I made sure that hands were held near water and gave dire warnings about children getting lost forever in the dense New Zealand forest. We wandered happily along, making little arrows out of wood and holding branches "in case we see some baddies." Then the path stopped: and there was a river. With stones, nothing else, for us to cross.
I flinched. Was about to turn back, delicately: but it was too late, they had both seen it and were begging to cross the river. I looked. It wasn't too deep. "OK," I said, fully expecting a dunking, "I will carry A across and come back for B." My eyes widened as I saw B sitting quietly on the rock where I had placed him, exactly where I had told him to wait: and A walking carefully behind me, placing his feet exactly where I wanted him to on the slippery rocks.
I didn't dare to believe it. But the thought occurred to me that for the first time I had ever seen them, they had recognised a dangerous environment and were responding appropriately. A sense of danger, useful awareness of danger, sensible behaviour, might be achievable after all.
The next day I took them both to the park. Outside the fenced area is a tree, which unsurprisingly they wanted to scramble in. Child A wanted to climb high. "Help me," he said, "help me do it." I helped him, nervously, suggesting feet and handholds. He climbed until his feet were over my head and then asked to come down. He listened when I told him how to manage it and I swung him down to safety.

Outdoors, it seems, is good for my boys. It wasn't possible in England - too much bad weather, too many small children running in different directions, not enough help, the constant threat of collapse from my eldest's dodgy hip which would have stranded us all outdoors. We were outside as much as I could manage it, but generally in our safely-fenced back garden. Lots of paddling pool and cricket time, but not much adventure. But here, and with an improving hip, things are looking different. I am realising that here, with the outdoor lifestyle at hand, real trees to climb in the safety of a park and lowkey walks in a town reserve with real rivers to cross suddenly accessible to this mobility-restricted family, I may be able to help them develop a sense of safe behaviour, by gradually exposing them to small risks and helping them to manage them.

It won't take away what my husband and I affectionately term "the crazy" in them overnight, but it may be a developmental step on that path. I do hope so. It wasn't why we emigrated, but what a plus point that would be.


  1. I get the small children running in different directions and the lack of enough help and the hip issues, but too much bad weather keeping you inside? Say that again and I'll have to accuse you of being a southern wuss!

  2. :)

    Sitting here in snow, I'm wondering how much your boys & you will like living somewhere with less seasonality in the weather, once the initial charm has worn off! How easy is it to get to a more varied climate if you want snow, for example?

  3. Very easy, there are ski-runs a few hours from here.