When people first become acquainted with the Continuum Concept and natural, hunter gatherer style parenting, one question they all seem to become fixated with is the idea of babies playing with sharp knives, fire and even machetes. In her book, Jean Liedloff describes crawling babies investigating the area around an open pit, playing next to a fire and also handling machetes.
Quite understandably this is somewhat frightening to our Western sensibilities. Parents either make the decision to try and give their babies the freedom to take these risks, all the while hovering nervously and completely negating the point of “trusting” them to be safe, or they childproof and offer plastic toy versions, but feel they have somewhat failed their child by not being able to give them the trust they deserve.
So what should we do? As a natural parent should our babies be playing with machetes?
The answer is, that very much depends on your family.
The machete, the fire and even the pit are all metaphors. They symbolise two key things.
The first is that babies are capable and trustworthy. This is something which is often ignored or overlooked in Western culture. We believe babies are helpless little beings in need of our protection. We tend to assume that they can’t do something rather than give them the chance to try. We worry needlessly and panic when they begin to explore.
The point of Jean Liedloff sharing her observations is not necessarily that we should try to imitate these situations exactly, but that we should offer our babies freedom to explore their own environment and try things for themselves. We should assume the positive – that they can do something – and know that they are not reckless with their lives as we would often presume.
The second point is that the babies in the Yequana tribe are always 100% included in tribal/family life. They are able to observe adults using tools, learn how to handle them by watching and are given the opportunity to touch and explore these things for themselves.
Now I don’t know about you, but I rarely have cause to use a machete. My children would not necessarily know how to handle one as they have not had the opportunity to watch them in daily use. However, there are tools I do use daily which I assume my children will be able to handle.
For example, I use a knife and fork when I eat my dinner. As a baby, my son was always included in meal times, so when it came time for him to start eating, he was given an adult knife and fork to use. From six months old he used a full sized, metal fork and it never occurred to me to give him anything else. When it came to drinking, he has always been given the same cup or glass as I would choose for that beverage.
In four years we have never had a breakage.
From a young age, he would climb up on a chair to stand at the stove and watch or help me cook. He would be trusted not to touch the roaring open fire or wood burning stove as he went about his play. As he got older and more curious, he began using screwdrivers and other tools whilst working alongside his Daddy in our home.
The point being made in the Continuum Concept is not to try and replicate the experiences of the Yequana to the letter, but instead to consider your children trustworthy, able to make reasonable and safe choices and also to include them fully in family life, enabling them to imitate the work we as adults do so they can learn about their world.
So, if you use a machete on a regular basis and your child is with you whilst you do, then yes, perhaps you might like to let them explore this tool. If not, I’m sure there are plenty of tools you do use which are more appropriate for teaching them about their world.
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