Fearless parenting with Stefan Winterboer

As a senior field guide at Singita Private Game Reserves in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Winterboer has faced down charging lions, potentially dangerous hippos, and hungry crocs. He's also a host for Nat Geo's Safari Live. (Children can check out the kid-friendly version.)

 

HIS FEARLESS KID: A son, 6½

FEARLESS QUOTE: “We shouldn’t hide our children from their fears, or try to protect them from whatever scares them. But it does take time and conscience to develop courage.”

I remember the first time I ran away from a lion. I was basically a kid—21 years old—and my partner and I were tracking a pride while our safari group waited in the distance, safely in the vehicle. Suddenly a lioness jumped out of the bush and onto a zebra just 20 yards away. More and more lions materialized out of the winter grass, eventually bringing the screaming animal down. I was terrified. My partner told me to get back to our guests, which meant to calmly back away so the lions wouldn’t chase me. Instead, I ran for my life. I remember the terror pumping my legs, the shame coloring my face, and the knowledge that I had let fear rule me. It is a lesson I have not forgotten.

Since then I have encountered many lions on foot, some of which really did want to kill me. But I’ve never run from one again. It’s not that I have no fear—it’s that I won’t let fear rule me. We all face our “lion” at some point in our lives, but there can’t be courage without fear. To be fearless is not to have no fear, but to find courage in the face of it.

That’s what I want to teach my son. He’s going to encounter many fears throughout his life. Some I can prepare him for, like the fear of pain, failure, or rejection. But there are others I have no idea about yet. I want to help my kid recognize his fears and—more importantly—find his courage in the face of them.

We shouldn’t hide our children from their fears, or try to protect them from whatever scares them. But it does take time and conscience to develop courage. As a parent, I’ll stand alongside my child as we bravely face our fears together. I have to, to prepare him for this world, help him stand up for what he believes in, and make him understand his responsibilities. That’s something that will take courage—or as others will see it, a certain fearlessness.