Yesterday I went to pick Laylee up from a playdate and I noticed that she was acting funny. Now, she's my daughter so she often acts funny but this time her clothes were on backwards and something really didn't seem right, so I started asking questions.
"How was your playdate?" I asked as I started the car in my friend's driveway. Laylee lowered her eyes. "It's a secret," she said, "and Katie told me I could never tell anyone."
I took the van out of gear.
We've been having some trouble teaching Laylee about secrets. What I want her to understand is that in this family we don't KEEP secrets from each other, but what she hears is that in this family we don't TELL secrets. When a friend tells her a secret, she frequently comes home and says, "Olivia said a secret today but I'll never tell you because we don't tell secrets in this family."
So I took another shot and explained to her that my main job as her mommy was to keep her safe and I couldn't keep her safe if I didn't know what she was doing.
She responded that she already knew everything that was dangerous so she'd never get into any trouble. I replied that she most certainly did not know everything at age 4 and she'd need my help and advice for a while longer. (My word! I didn't think I'd be dealing with this until junior high.)
So she caved and spilled the details of the innocent pants-optional childish games she and her little girlfriend had been playing in a corner of the backyard. Listening to her story, I tried to keep a straight face, asked her if she thought that was a good idea, and then went inside to letmy friend know what they'd been up to. I told Laylee I wasn't mad and I was proud of her for being honest with me.
No one was hurt. Nothing illegal or immoral happened. At 4 and 5 years of age, the girls are old enough to play unsupervised from time to time. The problem is that they're not old enough to have great judgment, or strong enough to always stand up when one of their friends has the marvelous idea of running around naked... or playing with matches... or huffing inhalants from their dad's can of keyboard cleaner.
You see how my brain does that? If she's doing things today that she knows I wouldn't approve of and then planning to keep them a secret, what will she be doing tomorrow?
Deadly problems like huffing or guzzling cough syrup to get a "funny feeling" are not normally found until at least elementary school, when kids are passing on dangerous bone-headed behavior from one grade to the next. But Laylee has friends with older siblings who could very well be picking up and passing on all kinds of scary tricks.
We're trying to create as open an environment as possible so that no matter what path Laylee takes in life she'll always feel like she can talk to me and Dan and get help if she's in trouble. But honestly, we'd like to keep her out of trouble as much as possible. So we've decided to start a weekly series of safety lessons during family night to teach the kids how to make smart choices and reduce their risk of disaster.
I've always said I want to teach my kids correct principles and let them choose for themselves, but really I'd like to teach them correct principles and then have them choose to do everything exactly the way I taught them. I'm smart enough to know it won't always work that way and I love my kids enough to be totally freaked out when I consider just how many ways they could screw up their lives.
I'm scared. I'm scared for them to live in this world. I'm scared that it's my job to prepare them for it and I'm scared that no matter how much I read and obsess and talk their ear off, there will come a point when they'll need to make decisions on their own and it's coming faster than I ever imagined.
Now I struggle with finding a way to teach them safety and sound judgment without terrifying them or giving them ideas for stupid stunts they might never have thought of if I hadn't introduced the notion.
How do you find a balance between needless worry and reasonable parental awareness and disaster education?