Mitigating Risk

My cousin has always been a great source for random news. She won the prize this morning with a link to Yellowstone National Park’s Facebook page describing a woman who refused treatment after being knocked squarely on her rear by a bison that she foolishly approached. Our National Parks are full of dangers that city folks just don’t understand. One person commented about being asked if the bears were friendly enough to put their child on to take a picture!

Risk is a part of life. All the talk these days about whether touching surfaces where the corona virus has been involves any risk hasn’t helped. Where I live people go outside when the tornado sirens blow so that they can see it coming! Humans can be so foolish sometimes after being so careful at other times.

How do you teach a child about something as complicated as risk? Like many other concepts, risk is best taught by example. The great thing about teaching by example is the compound result of teaching multiple things at one time. You can warn a child about danger at the same time you are teaching them how to handle their fears.

I’ll use tornados for my example because they can literally occur anywhere in the United States.

Around here, we get notice that a front is coming next week that could contain severe storms. I don’t start pacing around the house looking for valuables to gather up and take to the cellar with me. I don’t leave a weather radar on the TV screen and let it play all day. I wouldn’t tell the kids they can’t play a video game because we might have storms next week. These alarming behaviors would seem foolish and cause others to quickly assess the risk and stop listening to me.

On the other hand, when the tornado sirens blow, those behaviors are exactly what I would do. I want to be weather aware but not scared still. Movement is necessary and urgent action is needed. I can move quickly without running around screaming, “We’re all going to die!” Most tornados follow a single path and can go right through your neighborhood and still miss your house. Risk is potential and is not the same as certainty. What may happen is rarely what actually happens.

One of the things I’ve learned during our pandemic is the total inconsistency we display in danger. Like taking your mask off to rub your nose and then putting it back on like nothing happened. We can usually undo all the things that keep us safe with one thoughtless act.

Teach your children to be thoughtful by asking them what they are thinking at random times. Then you can discuss the reasonable thoughts along with the foolish ones. Thinking skills are just as important as physical precautions. One reason we get a heads-up on next week’s storms is to allow us to quietly take some of those precautions early.

Risk is a part of life. Some things are worth the risk. That’s why we run to the grocery store for food, stand in line for a hamburger and get on a roller coaster that make us scream like a little girl. We all eventually learn to reduce the risk while enjoying the reward. Our children need our leadership to learn these lessons as safely as possible.

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