“Mommy! Do you think I can jump from here?” My daughter is yelling this question at me from the top of some playground structure, and my heart skips a few beats as I look at how high up she is.
Before I go any further in this story, there’s something you need to know.
My daughter is a daredevil. She has been this way since birth. There’s a scar between her eyes that she got (while I was sitting right next to her) by diving into the coffee table when she was two years old. We went to the ER, got her glued together, and came home. Guess where she was within minutes? Back on top of the couch, ready to perfect that dive.
I frequently find her at the top of trees or at the back of caves. Roaring waterfalls, towering roller coasters, ferocious woodland beasts, darkness—nothing seems to give her pause.
Raising a daredevil is something of a balancing act. I know that she is going to seek out thrills. It’s in her blood, and there is no amount of my fretting or warnings that is going to keep her from looking for the next adrenaline rush. At the same time, I have to keep her as safe as I possibly can even when she seems determined to put herself into danger as often as possible.
Now back to the playground where my daughter has climbed atop something that the playground engineers had never intended for climbing. She’s perched on the edge, staring down at me without a hint of fear in her eyes. She has asked a simple question. Do I think she can jump from there? My answer is important.
If I say no, she will listen. As full of devilish dares as she is, she respects the fact that I’m trying to keep her safe, and she is genuinely waiting for my answer. If I say no, she will turn around, climb down, and find something else to do.
If I say yes, she will jump. Fearlessly. Boldly. Tumbling as she hits the ground to avoid landing painfully.
Here is what is really important: I have to answer honestly. She didn’t ask me if I wanted her to jump from there. She asked me if I thought she could jump from there. In most cases, the answer is yes. She is a daredevil, but she is also smart. She usually picks feats she can tackle, and it’s rare that I honestly do not think she can handle the jump from whatever height she has chosen.
If I say yes, she will jump, and she will learn that I will be honest about her risks. And she will continue to trust me when I say no.
If I say no, she will not jump, but she will also learn that I am not someone who can be trusted to help her navigate this daredevil life she leads. She is going to seek out the thrills—with or without me. She is testing me now to see if I am someone who will provide her real guidance, and this is a test I need to pass.
Today it is tall trees and playground structures. But tomorrow it will be driving in fast cars, choosing who to date, and deciding whether or not to try that sip of beer. Today, missteps end in skinned knees and scuffed shoes. Tomorrow, missteps could be much more costly.
I need my daredevil to know that my answers are genuine. I need her to know that she can trust what I say and that when I say no, she shouldn’t jump from there, it’s good advice. I don’t know everything that the future holds, but I do know this: my child is going to climb, and I want her to learn how to truly judge the fall early.