I recently had a conversation with a friend about fear – all different kinds of fear, but particularly the fear of nature.
She said that she once overheard a dad tell his kid not to sit in a manicured lawn because he might get a tick. This scenario makes me sad for two reasons. First of all, the kid isn’t going to get a tick in a perfect, chemically-treated lawn. (Depending on who you talk to, it’s possible the chemicals are worse for the kid than a tick anyway…)
Secondly, it bothered me that the father was instilling a fear of nature in his child. And let’s be honest, a lawn is hardly nature. It was more like a fear of all things green that slightly resemble nature.
If a child can’t sit in a lawn without fear, how can a child be expected to do anything else outdoors without fear?
As my kids have been getting a little older and more adventurous, I’ve been taking them out in nature more and more. And not just the backyard, but on camping trips at state parks. Places with trails, wildlife, and poison ivy.
I grew up camping and hiking, so as long as I can remember I’ve been familiar with bugs, dirt, and even spiders. Until recently, this never struck me as out of the ordinary. But the older I get, the more I’ve seen people that are genuinely afraid of these things. And not only are they afraid, but they pass these fears down to their children.
I’m not talking about actual phobias here. As far as I know I don’t have any phobias so I’m unable to speak for those. It’s probably a lot harder than I even realize for anyone with a phobia of water, spiders, or disease-carrying raccoons to get past those things.
But I was afraid of almost everything when I was a kid. I know fear pretty well.
And at some point in my life something shifted drastically. Now I’m hardly afraid of anything – at least for myself. Not fearing for my children is much more difficult but I’m learning how to get past that too.
Here are some things I’ve learned recently about fear, courage, and life outdoors.
It is harder to educate about nature than it is to just fear it and avoid it.
It takes a lot more effort to actually learn the poisonous spiders in your area than to fear all spiders in general.
It takes time to teach your child to identity poison ivy rather than just not touch any green plants at all.
But I believe these small efforts will be rewarded in the end.
Respect for nature isn’t uneducated or uninformed. We respect nature when we learn the difference between something harmless and something that could hurt us.
When kids are informed about the risks and know what to do in a situation, they are empowered.
They are actually more free when they are informed. It should be done at the right age for that child, but I think it can be done without putting fear in them.
Kids are born learners. They want to know what we know. They are curious about the world. They will hang on to what we teach them – especially if it gives them more freedom as a result.
No, I can’t guarantee that my kids won’t get hurt or scratched or bit. But I can guarantee that they will have better stories to tell than if I kept them locked up.
In fact, we’re fooling ourselves if we think keeping kids indoors will protect them.
People get hurt walking down the stairs just as easily as they get hurt climbing trees.
Way more people get killed by car accidents than snake bites. The most dangerous thing I do with my kids is probably drive them places…and not many parents I know are letting that hold them back.
Sports are risky too but a lot of mainstream parents let their children participate in sports….
I remember when I was pregnant with my first child, I just wanted to be past the first trimester because then the baby would be “safe.”
After that, I couldn’t wait for the birth, when I could “safely” hold my child in my arms.
But then the fears didn’t end. After that there was fear of SIDS, fear of jaundice, and just about every other health complication in the world.
Basically, the fear never ends as a parent. So you either have to live under an umbrella of anxiety or you need to trust God with your children.
It isn’t easy. But it’s a heck of a lot better than the alternative.
Unfortunately, accidents can happen, but I don’t believe it’s beneficial in any way to “protect” your family by keeping them indoors.
Life is risky. Learning is risky.
We just have to breathe and remember that the benefits ultimately outweigh the risks.
What kind of legacy do we want to leave our children with? One of fear or one of taking calculated risks?
Part of being nature smart is learning to take the right risks.
Sometimes us parents just need to fake it till we make it. Even if we can’t overcome our own fears, we can put on a brave face and not pass that fear onto our children.
We can find our comfort level that’s right for our family.
Search out those outdoor activities that you’re most comfortable with and go from there. Baby steps still count.
Bring inside toys out on a blanket. Embrace daily backyard play. Make the pool your second home in the summer. Even if it’s mostly concrete, you’re getting water, fresh air, and sunshine. All these things can build fond memories and a lifelong love for the outdoors.
It doesn’t mean doing things we absolutely hate. I don’t think I’ll ever have the courage to jump out of an airplane. And that’s okay. But I can let my kids play in a creek without losing my mind over salmonella or water snakes….I just don’t think about those things.
Stop fear at the first sign.
I recently heard it said that fear is essentially a scenario in our mind that hasn’t happened that causes distress.
I know I’ve had those thoughts. You hear a sound in the woods and your mind immediately sees a picture of a bear and a gory scene ensues. But the answer is simple: you acknowledge that thought and you kill it at the root. Don’t let the thought fester and grow.
The Bible says to take every thought captive and make it obedient. (2 Cor. 10:5)
It’s easier said than done, but with practice you can learn to recognize fearful thoughts and kick them out at the first sign.
Even children can learn how to do this in a way. The Pixar movie Inside Out shows how the different emotions are inside all of us – fear being one of them. Kids can learn to feel their fear, but not let it call the shots.
The Bible says “fear not” or “be not afraid” 103 times. Clearly we aren’t supposed to let fear be driving us.
Camping with my friends this week, we had a fabulous time playing in creeks and sleeping outside and getting really dirty.
Camping as a kid is really fun. But as a parent, camping is only fun if you’re not dwelling on your fears.
Fear of germs.
Fear of bugs.
Fear of snakes.
Fear of bears.
Fear of thunderstorms.
Fear of sunburn.
Fear of slippery rocks.
Fear of going to the bathroom outside.
We could literally drive ourselves crazy with worry for ourselves and for our kids.
But worry doesn’t help anything.
Jesus says: Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life. (Luke 12:25)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Worry robs us of life. Living, truly living, happens when we surrender those fears.
Worry doesn’t make us safer. Fear doesn’t protect us. It robs us.
Anxiety will kill you faster than an adventurous spirit.
Don’t be careless.
But do put fear in it’s rightful place.
Live your life brave and adventurous.
Leave your children with a legacy of courage.
The brave may have some bumps and bruises but the brave tell better stories.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
How do you push back your fears to live life more fully? How can we teach our children to make informed, but brave decisions?
Photography by Annie Spratt