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  • W. Blake Kooi

Build Confident and Competent Children with Nature

Nature is a perfect place to build confident and competent children. When confidence comes from a place of competence it is not fragile. Technically, this is called self-efficacy. This is very different than the self-esteem movement—a movement that has been mostly harmful. It creates children whose confidence is fragile or misplaced because it has no foundation. Children have been told that they are wonderful for no reason. Eventually, this creates two kinds of adults. One type of adult is the one who tests the world and finds out that they are not practically wonderful and develops a low sense of self-worth. This type of adult doesn’t ever meet their potential. The other type of adult that this creates is an arrogant and ignorant type of adult who thinks they are wonderful, but it’s clear to everyone around them that they are not wonderful. They confidently and continuously make poor choices. These people are usually our bosses or politicians, because in an interview confidence is often misinterpreted as competence.

So, how do we teach this self-efficacy and how is it related to nature?

Nature is the perfect place for your child to test themselves. Can they climb that tree? Can they balance on that log? Can they responsibly help with lighting a campfire? My wife’s facial expression wasn’t the most pleasant when I told her that I put sling shots into my 4- and 7-year-olds easter baskets last year, but I stand by that decision. They have to learn that they are responsible to handle dangerous things and that dangerous things have real consequences. I know some will disagree with me, but the world is a dangerous place. If you shelter your children from the harsh realities of life, don’t be surprised if your children retreat from life into adulthood. If you wait until adulthood to let your child engage with the dangerous wilderness in which we all live (even if you live in the city and pretend that you exist outside the environment), your child will suffer.

Take your child hunting and let them see the life and death of an animal. Teach them about respecting the animal. Let them be sad. Talk to them about the cycle of life. Then when they are an adult and they have to set up a funeral for a family member they will have already practiced grief. Maybe they’ll be a little more prepared for the harsh realities of life. If you are new to this type of parenting, take it slow. You don’t throw your child into the deep part of a lake to teach swimming. You do it incrementally in a nuanced and adapted way. Don’t give them more than they can handle, but challenge them. They may surprise you. Don’t just hand them a hunting knife. Give them a replica wood knife and make them treat it as if it’s real. When they show responsibility, you give them more responsibility. Responsibility then becomes a word that children want to exemplify rather than to run from.

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