Summer is almost upon us, and the windows of my home are often left open to allow a cool breeze to pass through. The music of birds chirping, and the distant sound of barking neighbourhood dogs can be heard, as well as the squeals of delight and shrieks of laughter of neighbourhood children. I love these sounds. My own children will likely spend the vast majority of the summer outside squealing and shrieking too. But there is one very important rule that my kids follow while playing outside our home, which the rest of the block has not caught onto yet. If my kids forget this rule, or become carried away in their play, I am happy to remind them. The rule is NO SCREAMING ‘HELP!’ Unless of course, you actually need help.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf, but in case the details are not clear in your mind, I will sum it up for you:
Boy thinks it will be fun to pretend the big bad wolf has come to eat the villagers, and tells them he has seen the wolf. Villagers run around screaming like chickens with their heads cut off, and hide in their homes. Boy finds all of this very amusing and continues the prank repeatedly. Understandably, villagers get pissed off and stop believing the boy when he cries ‘Wolf!’ Then, boy actually sees the big bad wolf one day, and screams for help! Do you think the villagers run to help him? HELL NO! Because they have very good reason to believe that he is probably just messing with them! Boy gets eaten by wolf, the end.
I tell this story to my kids whenever necessary, and explain the moral of the story. My kids are what people like to call ‘spirited’, so they are bursting with excited energy and imagination. They pretend all kinds of wild stuff that usually involves some level of screaming, roaring, and chasing. Their voices rise, they squeal and laugh. But they know better than to shout out the word “HELP!” Unless of course, they actually need help.
Similarly, we strictly refrain from any kind of ‘pretend danger’ while visiting the local swimming pool. We like to play a game where I pretend to be a shark or an enormous octopus (I’m versatile like that) and they try to run or swim away from me before I ‘gobble them up!’ It is great fun, and they pretend to be scared while scurrying away. But you will NOT hear my kids scream for ‘HELP’ in the pool. Unless of course, they actually need help.
My kids are old enough now to have a pretty good understanding of the roles of emergency responders like police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. Unfortunately, we don’t live right next to the police station, so I tend to feel that I have a responsibility to help them out a little. If someone in the neighbourhood is hurt or in danger, I figure its my job as a human to investigate, help, and call the appropriate authorities. My kids are beginning to understand how to respond in an emergency. Its an ongoing conversation, and an important one to have with kids. They know to run to a grown-up for help if there is trouble. They know to call for help. But ONLY, of course, if they need it! They understand (after being told repeatedly) that taking advantage of other people’s desire to protect others is incredibly disrespectful, and that they are just like the boy who cried wolf if they pretend there is danger when none exists.
I may not have any training like the emergency responders, but I have a genuine desire to help protect the children in my neighbourhood. So when I hear a blood-curdling scream, my heart jumps into my throat, and I find it incredibly unnerving when I discover that it was a false alarm. Because apparently there are children out there who think it is okay to play like that, whose parents have perhaps not had that conversation with them.
I’m here to tell you that it is NOT OKAY!! It shows a lack of respect for emergency responders and the procedures they follow to protect us and keep us safe. It shows a lack of respect for the care and concern of neighbours who have made it their duty to help keep your kids safe. My rage about this issue comes from a loving place because every single time I hear your kid scream, I am in Mama Bear mode and I feel the fear of anyone who thinks a child is in danger. But one of these days, I may stop responding the same way to those sounds. Probably not, but why burn that bridge? Can we all please just have a conversation with our kids about not screaming for help?
Unless of course, they actually need it.