Fearless parenting with Genevieve von Petzinger

As a paleoanthropologist, Genevieve von Petzinger wriggles and squeezes through European caves in search of mysterious Ice Age rock art left by ancient people. She's also an explorer on the kids' video series Explorer Academy: The Truth Behind. Read on for von Petzinger's tips on raising fearless kids.

 

HER FEARLESS KIDS: Two sons, 20 months and 6 years

FEARLESS QUOTE: “I’d tell kids to be fearless and limitless in their imagination, and don't be afraid to take chances in life. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared or calculating the risk, but don't let the fear stop you from trying things.”

NAT GEO FAMILY: Why is it good for kids to be fearless?

GENEVIEVE VON PETZINGER: I think there's fearless and then there's having no fear. For example, my toddler is completely without fear and could easily run out in front of a car if I didn't watch him closely. So we don’t want that kind of fearless. But he does need to get out and explore his world—that's how he's going to learn and gain confidence. Sometimes that means falling down, but the good kind of fearless is what makes you get up and try again.

When my older son is doing something that scares him, I tell him that courage doesn't mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway. So far he's never backed down from a challenge, and the confidence he gains is what helps him build the resilience he'll need to overcome challenges throughout his life.

NAT GEO FAMILY: Describe yourself as a fearless kid.

GVP: I never jumped off the roof of the house trying to fly or anything, but I did climb a lot of trees. I only fell out of one, when I was about 5. I was almost 30 feet up when the tree limb I was standing on broke and I bounced from branch to branch on the way down. Amazingly I didn't break anything, and it didn't stop me climbing trees (even though it scared my mother half to death!). But it did teach me to pay more attention to the size of the branch under my foot!

NAT GEO FAMILY: What advice would you give parents to raise a fearless kid?

GVP: We all feel fear sometimes, so let kids know that grown-ups get scared too—the secret is to push through that fear and do it anyway. Part of being able to be fearless is actually about being prepared. Whether I'm getting up on a stage to give a talk to a 500-person audience or about to climb into a cave to search for Ice Age art, it's all about the preparation. I might still get butterflies in my stomach, but I know I've done the work and am ready, and that allows me to just go for it.

I'd tell kids to be fearless and limitless in their imagination, and don't be afraid to take chances in life. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared or calculating the risk beforehand (you wouldn't climb Mount Everest without having the right gear), but don't let fear stop you from trying things. I fail at stuff all the time—sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. But you've just got to get back up. When you do succeed, there's no better feeling in the world.