“What is the scariest thing your kids have ever done?”


This was one of the best questions I was asked when I visited St. Paul recently to give a talk on raising self-reliant kids. And it was from a kid in the audience. Earlier in the day I visited the Twin Cities German Immersion School, a great public charter school where kids learn auf Deutsch.

I answered a range of questions from how long it took me to write Achtung Baby (9 months for the first draft) to how old was my dog (2 years). Parents also asked a lot of thoughtful questions but this was one of the best:

So what was the scariest thing my kids have ever done? At the time I answered the thing that scared me the most:

When my son Ozzie got a concussion. He was running and either not looking where he was going or maybe somebody bumped into him and he hit a pole, hard.

I talk a lot about risk—about letting kids evaluate risk for themselves before doing something that scares them.

Running into a pole was not a risk evaluation. It was an accident, not something that can be prevented beforehand, other than bubble-wrapping the pole or him. It was a good reminder that nothing is 100% safe – and for him a reminder to be sure to look where he was going.

Here are more ways I could have answered the scary question because as my husband sometimes reminds me “kids are meant to do things that scare their parents”:

  • At age 6, Ozzie walked home by himself from school in suburban California where this was not done. He ran the whole way the first time because he was scared. But he’s gotten much more comfortable with it since then. Maybe too comfortable…
  • In third grade, Ozzie once took two hours to come home from school. He was fine, just throwing snowballs with his friends. The lesson here was about communicating with your parents about where you are.
  • At age 10, Sophia managed to climb to the top of a 25-foot tall pine tree. My kids are always climbing things in ways I find frightening. See photo evidence. At the top, that’s my daughter on the outside of a tall climbing structure because I guess it wasn’t risky enough on the inside.
  • Both kids go sledding on a very steep slope, so steep I can’t watch. They say they fall off on purpose if they go too fast.
  • My daughter played middle school football this year. She was the only girl on the team. It was a very nervous autumn for me.

I’m sure there will be many more instances where my kids do something I find scary. It’s part of growing up.

What were some of the things that your kids have done that scared you? What did they learn from the experience? What did you learn as parents?


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