Fear for the Fearless [Kids that just don’t stop!]

This whole “fear” series has invoked some interesting responses. But by and large, the biggest question we have received is this, “What if my kid is fearless? What about then?” And I get that. In fact, dealing with a fearless kid is often times alarming for all us adults.

My daughter, as far as I can tell, is fearless of heights. She would [and has] marched right out to the edge of many cliffs and looked over. This elicits hysterics from which ever parent is on ‘guard duty’.  Which then leads to her response…”why are you yelling, mom? I am not scared.” Yeah, well… cause I am.



The boy. Need I say more?

It all started at 11 months, when he started walking. He was determined to go down stairs the “adult” way. He’d approach the steps and without breaking stride attempt to step down…tumbling down the remainder of the stairs. He’d promptly get up, cry a little. And DO IT AGAIN. This sort of determination to master a task will undoubtedly be a strength in his adult life…but for now. Not ok.

Well, extend this into all things outdoors and you’ll see why we require him to hold our hand 98% of the time while hiking. Cause we always end up on trails like the one pictured. I don’t know how, but we do. Trails with steep drop-offs ending in rocks. Trails with steep drop-offs ending in raging water. You get the picture.

For a boy who’s mind and feet are in a constant battle for ‘first’, randomly tripping off the side of the trail or barging into bushes unexpectedly is common place. Which brings up another concern: those bushes with things like rattlesnakes hidden inside. This actually happened last weekend on our hike. Only thank goodness the dog barged ahead first. And no, no one was bit. That is reason #1 for having a dog :). [For a great post on encountering wild animals, visit here: What to do when encountering wild animals.]

So what do we do with our fearless kids?!

My two cents says: Train and educate.

The trouble with having kids that love the outdoors, is that they are comfortable outdoors too. A good thing but… educating our kids on looking out for snakes, making lots of noise in areas where mountain lions and bears are abundant [usually the noise thing is not a problem], or not running ahead without a parent is important. Have them hold your hand. Or position them on the inside of the trail.

And in our house, we take a lot of time to train our kids. As soon as they can waddle away on their own two feet we work on things such as “STOP” and “Touch my leg.” Now for the explanation.


I want my kids to feel like they can run and play and frolic. But I want to be able to feel like I can let them. Part of that is having them attentive and obedient to my words. To us, this is a safety issue. If I say “stop,” they should freeze. A car could be coming, a rogue shopping cart, or like last weekend, a rattlesnake. The best way to train is to practice in the everyday moments.

Sometimes, while the kids play outside in the driveway I test them. “Stop!” I say. And we repeat until everyone is obeying quickly [the two year old usually needs a little more repetition of this game :)]

We help reward good listening and quick obedience with increased freedoms. It was a big day [and sort of scary for mom] when I let my oldest daughter ride her bike down the street [we live on a dead end] without me. Sure I was watching, but she had shown me 1. she’d stop right away if I yelled, 2. she knew how to watch for cars, 3. she was attentive to her surroundings.

“Touch my leg.”

We know a lot of families who do this, I cannot claim any credit for it. And honestly, most parents look at me like I have horns growing out my head. Why do we say that? Well… We’ve all seen it, heck…I remember doing it. Mom/Dad says, “come here.” The kid take two steps in their direction and stops. They didn’t really come “here”. But they didn’t ignore you either. We believe providing a clear cut command takes the “grey” out of their response. “Come touch my leg” requires the kid to come all the way to you, to obey completely. It has been invaluable in our outings.

Now maybe some of you have read this and are thinking, “great, their kids are of those rare eager-to-please kind. But when I say “stop” my kid looks at me, grins and runs the other direction with an evil cackle.” Each one of our kids has done that. In fact, our youngest is smack in the middle of that “stage.” All I can say is be consistent, provide some sort of disciple for their disobedience, and keep working it. Stay the course.

And for the kid who is just plain fearless and maybe a little clumsy because they grow roughly an inch every month or two and cannot keep their feet under them? Well, get creative. You know those Lucky Bum Ski Harnesses we used for skiing this last year? I swore I would never use one…but my boy had no interest in stopping or turning his skis cause he wanted to go fast and go off jumps. [We eventually told him, “no jumps” till you stop and turn on your own…and it worked.] But for those same reasons I have seriously considered making him wear the harness hiking as well…for those moments he trips off the side of the mountain…you know?

And here is where I invite your stories! What have your fearless kids done? What do you do in response? As far as kid safety…I am not sure anything is out-of-bounds…

15 comments on “Fear for the Fearless [Kids that just don’t stop!]
  1. Just last month, my son, 3 years old, showed how fast he could sprint when he ran down the path to the road from our walk-in camp site. Luckily, it was a woman walking down the road with her dog and not a car. That gave us our adrenaline rush for the week!

    My biggest fear though is that he tends to get distracted by stuff (birds, plants, noises) but keeps walking without looking where he’s going – and like you, we’re often on trails that need your attention. To counter this, if we’re on risky terrain, we have a leash that attaches to his little backpack that we tie to our belt like a safety line. We find it less restrictive than having to hold hands but gives us that measure of safety that lets us all enjoy the hike. (We’ll also use it when we’re in busy places like the airport where we need two hands and for him to be safe.)

    • Suzi – Sounds just like my son! He has biked into fences, walked into walls and tripped over whole trees cause he was busy looking elsewhere. The real challenge was skiing. Seeing as a general rule for skiing is to look where you want to go and your skis will turn that way – his eyes were always looking in the wrong place: chair lifts, other kids, snowboarders, trees. And sure enough…his skis followed!

      • My son just started skiing this past winter and he got so distracted by the chairlift beside magic carpet he fell right off 😀 Next year will be interesting on the slopes… watch out below!

  2. Nice article! We have a fearless little boy in our house. He used to love to just run out of our front door straight towards the busy-ish street next to our house. I would FREAK OUT. It took some time, but now he’s gotten good at staying out of the street and always holding our hands when crossing the street. I’d love to be able to do the “STOP” and “Touch my leg” as well. I guess that will be the next battle! 🙂 It’s worth it though, to know you can trust them.

    • Kate- I totally agree! Teaching the kids to obey verbal commands is a tough long road, but I believe it teaches so much more than safety: submitting to authority, listening, ignoring their current whim. Good luck!

  3. Great post! I’m not so sure with J-man if he is fearless or if he is just not schooled in danger. He use to run into the parking lot before I told him why he can’t. He use to run up to a rock/boulder and see how high he could climb before I explained to him why he needs someone there with him. I will say that we live around numerous ridges and cliffs and it scares me to death that he doesn’t understand, yet, the dangers of getting too close. He does know what crashing on his bike feels like and how speed can be a causing factor but he still speeds down the hill anyways. 😉

  4. What a great post, and what a relief to both 1.) hear from others who deal with this AND 2.) get some constructive ideas. I had not heard of “touch my leg” and I thank you for that – let the training commence! lol

    My son is 21 months, and I believe is truly fearless. Thusfar when we hike he is still in a child carrier. I spend sleepless nights worrying about once he’s on the trail (I can’t help it). At the park, while holding his hand and walking along on one of the platforms (about 7 or 8 feet off the ground) of the playground equipment …out of curiosity, I let him lead. Would he really walk right off the edge, at one of the openings? Yes, yes he did. So scary, this kid!!

    Enjoyed this and will be back … new fan!

  5. I adore this post. I’ve got a pint-sized runner myself & the only thing that keeps me sane is that he’s getting older every day – and doing better at listening & understanding why I’m constantly telling him to “stop.” As much as I often cringe at the risks he takes, I admire his adventurous spirit – and will do all I can to make sure he stays safe out there.

  6. Thanks so much for the “touch my leg” tip. My daughter is a runner and with lots of camping plans this summer, I will use this!

  7. When it came to safety and running away from me (worst passerby/helpless moment ever was hearing the wail of a toddler who had been struck by a car after running out of the grocery store while the paramedics put him on a stretcher), I made sure not to make a game of it, using my ‘serious-mom’ voice (and often trying so hard not to laugh at their reactions) let them know when a situation was dangerous.

    The other way to deal with this, or cope, is to just cover your eyes and let nature take its course in those moments where the worst possibility is a broken arm (for example, the flat hikes vs treacherous cliffs). Kids bounce pretty good, and the bounces (and boo-boos) let them learn their limits as well as challenge their ever-increasing kinetic skills. When they know you will allow them to test their abilities most of the time, they will better understand the “not safe” times.

    My kids are 9 and 11 now and they’ve had a few stitches here and there, but they are agile and cautious but brave. They rock climb with enthusiasm, fall and skin their knees on their bikes, but they also know why they have to think about safety. Like Melissa said, they will understand best if they are ‘schooled in danger’. Tell your children what would happen to them if they slipped on that precarious trail. Show them that your hand is a steady and safe place, and they will know where to turn when they need it. <3

  8. Sometimes the Stop command is a bit heavy for our kids, it tends to frighten them a bit: did I do something wrong? Am I in danger?
    We also play an other game with our kids (we started when they were able to sit):
    We let them sit on the dresser with their feeth dangling over the side.
    We tell them to wait with our voice and with a sign (Repeat the command a few times, each time changing the number of times).
    Then we tell them to come. At that moment they are allowed to jump off into our hands.
    Great fun and really helpfull on some occasions.
    For instance: our 1, 5 year old son can climb up the slide of our jungle gym.
    Thats OK, but I want to be next to him while he is doing that, the slide is very high and he is a bit of a stuntman sometimes.
    Most of the time I am right there at his side, but sometimes I am a bit further, because we also have a 3 year old daughter who wants my attention.
    When I say stop, he gets very frustrated, because he knows he can climb the slide perfectly.
    He is likely to fall of at this time.
    When I say wait, he waits untill I am next to him and tell him to continue.

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