Claire King


Be careful!

Posted on: January 6th, 2013 by admin - 12 Comments

It’s the 6th January 2013 and it’s a glorious warm sunny day here in the south of France. We took the dogs out to a nearby field we’ve named The Big Meadow, for a run. After the Christmas holidays we all needed a good run.

From the meadow you can cross a fallow field and go down to a stream that comes down off Canigou. In summer it is teeming with water boatmen, tadpoles, dragonflies and pond skaters, but at this time of year the water is low and you have to look harder for waterlife. There are also lots of games to be played with pebbles, fallen branches, shadows and reflections and the nearby cows in the adjacent pasture.

My smallest daughter is just 5, and as she crosses the rocks I stand back, because I know she wants to do it, and she wants to do it by herself.

My instinct is to go with her, hold her hand, tell her ‘Be careful!’ But I don’t. I stand back and wait.

“Please don’t slip, please don’t slip, please don’t slip and hit your head.” (What I think).

“You’re doing brilliantly! You’ve got great balance.” (What I actually say.)

She does fine. She gains a little more confidence in the process and I gain a little more confidence in her abilities.

I’ve been following the early reader reviews of The Night Rainbow recently, and one of the discussion topics is about Pea, who is 5 1/2, and the fact her adventures in the meadows and down by the stream are unsupervised.

‘Is that realistic?’ readers ask.

The truth is I don’t know, because I don’t let my own children go wandering off down in the meadows and by the water on their own. When they get to a certain age then of course I will; I just don’t know what that age is yet. I’m hoping I know it when I see it.

But once upon a time young children, some as young as my daughter, were allowed to go tadpoling, or hunting for sticklebacks without adult supervision. It used to seem normal. It doesn’t any more, does it?

**UPDATE**: I’ve been directed to a couple of interesting websites that talk about this topic.

Here is an article called ‘Please don’t help my kids‘ : “I don’t want my daughters to learn that they can’t overcome obstacles without help. I don’t want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort.”

Here’s Free Range Kids : “Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, Ivy League rejection letters and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

12 Responses

  1. tu says:

    Lovely website, well done CK, beautiful colours.
    On a five-year-old being left to roam free, I think it’s normal in some places, used to be normal ’round these parts (UK) especially with sibs, and still happens, whether advised or not, in some traumatised or troubled families. Readers may find the idea uncomfortable — and I’d not let my 5 y/o out alone — but it fits with Pea’s story, no?

    • Claire says:

      Oh yes, it fits that she’s out unsupervised in the novel, but I think readers wonder if she would survive that way? Because, I suppose, of all of the things that we fear could happen if we aren’t there to protect them. I think for the most part they would. But it’s the car that takes a corner too fast, the slippery rock, or in your case the unexpected wave that comes from nowhere…

      • tu says:

        Well, if you left lots of five-year-olds out and about, some would get into terrible trouble, but others probably wouldn’t in a safe-ish rural environment at least? Our tethering of kids can only reduce risk, not remove it; it’s such a grey area. I’ve been reading about it on the net where it’s really difficult to gauge because one person’s idea of “safe place” is not the same as another’s.
        I’m a stalker mum, I’m with my children as much as I can be, and dislike them wandering off alone, mostly because of traffic ad the sea. It’s not that they can’t check for dangers, it’s because below the age of 8 or 9, and maybe after, they won’t do it consistently or reliably. Would they enjoy time away from me? Maybe, but there’s a lifetime for that — and anyway, they might also enjoy my company? These choices are all personal, individual.

  2. Pete says:

    I’ve been fascinated by that topic too. When I was a kid, you were told exactly where you could/couldn’t go/ do etc then left to get on with it. The boundaries grew as you got older. By 8 I would go out at midday in the summer and come back until six/seven o’clock. No one bothered. No mobile phones then either.
    This is now viewed as child neglect by many modern parents. Children are ferried around from one arranged activity to the other and must be within sight at all times ‘in case something happens’. In London, children doing anything on their own until secondary school seemed to be problematic.
    From experience, it seemed ridiculous to me that there were all sorts of initiatives in school to give children ‘confidence’ yet a nine year old couldn’t play in a communal garden for an hour (fenced off with 6ft iron railings and no entry from the street) without an adult being present.
    I suspect the ‘Highgate Mums’ are going to have a problem with it but I think Pea’s adventures aren’t that extraordinary given her circumstances and the setting.

    • Claire says:

      We used to live on a housing estate which eventually edged onto wetlands and coal tips. It’s hard to remember what age exactly, but I’d say by 7 at the latest I was allowed to walk to friends houses and sweet shops streets away, and beyond, down to the river. All the kids were. I must ask my mum if she felt the same fears watching me wander off as I would today.

  3. James Williams says:

    In the 70s the older kids/teens would look out for the younger ones and, generally, keep them safe and sound.

    The hoodied, saggy-trousered teenagers of today, spaced out on pills and cheap cider, are likely to use a 5 year old as target practice – do NOT let yours down the park unsupervised.

  4. Dominic says:

    Hi Claire,

    We have a 5 year old son, Declan, and whilst not as blessed as you, we have a nice play area across the road from our house which is contained on a quiet cul-de-sac, there are trees and bushes to build dens and go on adventures. We let him play out without adult supervision, but we do know where he is, and that he cannot “wander off” as the play area is bounded by a large fence. There are always lots of children out of varying ages from 5 to 15 – what an experience for a child to be able to play free with his peers!! Sometimes we have to ignore those in the media who would tell us that strangers roam round every corner waiting to carry our children off and let them have their childhood. I would never criticise someone who didn’t share my faith in most of humanity however.
    Loving the website by the way!


    • claire says:

      Hi Dom,
      That sounds great. We often say that if we ever come back to the UK an ideal location would be on a cul-de-sac with families with kids of similar ages to ours. In terms of how much children should be supervised, I can see it both ways. Of course I worry but this is a safe and benign part of the world and ideal to let them grow their wings. Plus, at least one of the girls takes after me, so unless she learns early on how to take care of herself, I can see some scary teenage years ahead… πŸ˜‰

  5. According to my ex-police officer Dad, statistically, and per-child-in-the-country, the risk of kidnapping or random street paedophilia has gone down dramatically. We think it’s worse because it’s in the papers more, but it’s not. It’s better!

    Mum says she remembers reguarly being leered or flashed at. I’ve never, thankfully, been flashed at in my life!

    The real danger is not from strangers but from traffic. We live in a cul-de-sac with other families, but it’s surrounded by not such a lovely area so I don’t like them leaving the street, apart from the older two who can walk the ten+ minute walk to the shop and back so long as they’re together.

    I like to think I’d be much more relaxed if we lived in a more rural area and I could set them free in a field…but I’d still get the younger two across any roads first πŸ˜‰

    (Mine are 4, 6, 8 and 9 and all very, very sensible and reliable)

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