Should You Let Your Small Children Swing Axes?

My 6-year-old son measuring firewood while my 8-year-old daughter splits kindling, and mommy handles the chainsaw.
My 6-year-old son measuring firewood while my 8-year-old daughter splits kindling, and mommy handles the chainsaw.

You might find it controversial, but my wife and I let my 8-year-old daughter swing an axe.

The modern, over-protective, every-child-has-a-tablet-and-a-cell-phone society that we presently live in ends up, in many ways, impeding some of the most important parts of parenting.  My wife and I have been talked-to at daycare pickup, at playgrounds, etc by concerned helicopter parents whose hearts are aflutter at the amount of leash we give our kids, and how we need to beware of the threats of dismemberment and abduction that are all around us.   It’s admittedly not as bad in our current state of Oregon than in more-conservative Maryland where the kids were previously, but still – as a society there has been a pendulum swing into an over-protective paranoia about childhood safety that has been depriving our kids of some of the essence of what “growing up” is all about.  Yes, reasonable precaution should always be taken to keep kids safe, but I think it’s likewise essential to proactively work to guide and nurture kids into confronting and handling the world around them, as well as handling their own bodies.

The Kids Chopping & Loading Firewood
The Kids Chopping & Loading Firewood

It’s been no secret that the helicopter parenting world we live in has resulted in an ever-contracting amount of “acceptable” freedom that we give our children.   The stresses of the two-income family commonly lead to TV, and now electronic devices, as the means of “keeping kids busy” while the parents sweat out their daily routine.  I understand the stresses there, my wife and I have at times both had demanding jobs, but I don’t think it ever really excuses one from one’s primary objectives as parents.

It’d be great if one could just charge one’s kids rent, or starting from birth just make them responsible for themselves.  But yeah, that’s impractical.  As such, the basic philosophy we’ve always followed is that there’s two main things that we’re working on as parents, with respect to kids:

  1. Getting the kids to build and understand how to really use their bodies, and
  2. Getting kids to understand how the world around them works, and how they need to interact with it.

Yes, this means a lot of physical play and sports and activities to really get them to push their bodies and see how much they can do.  And at the right age, that also includes making them a part of the family operation, and getting them to understand what needs to go down in the house to keep us all alive.  As much as possible, and as much as is real to them, we’ve tried to include them in our day-to-day so that they feel like they’re a part of it all.   There’s a quote I think of a lot on this, from an article L. Ron Hubbard wrote on the subject of allowing children to work:

“Children, in the main, are quite willing to work. A two-, three-, four-year-old child is usually found haunting his father or her mother trying to help out either with tools or dust rags; and the kind parent who is really fond of the children responds in the reasonable and long-ago-normal manner of being patient enough to let the child actually assist. A child so permitted then develops the idea that his presence and activity is desired and he quite calmly sets about a career of accomplishment.”
L. Ron Hubbard

We heat our house with a woodstove.  So a part of that, for us, involves that potentially-controversial act of instructing kids how to handle dangerous tools like axes, saws, hammers & drills.  Yep, my beautiful daughter could lose a finger.  But that’s where it’s up to my wife and I to make sure she respects the axe she’s holding, to make sure she understands where to put her body and how to swing it, but to also make sure we work her body enough with sports and outdoor activity so that she’s strong enough to get some meat into that swing.

My daughter's roars of accomplishment every time she split a good-sized log was all I needed to know I was on the right track.
My daughter’s roars of accomplishment every time she split a good-sized log was all I needed to know I was on the right track.

I realize that every family has a different environment and a different set of circumstances they live in.  Some kids grow up in a downtown high-rise, while others get to live on the farm.  We’re somewhere in the middle.  No matter what, though, I think it’s extremely important to set as an early parenting goal, the involvement of the kids in the family operation, and the enlistment of their contribution in whatever they can do that helps.   They’re going to grow up and need to drive cars and cross busy streets and cut down stuff with chainsaws, so better to get them deeply in touch with their world sooner rather than later.

What are your thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Should You Let Your Small Children Swing Axes?

  • January 31, 2018 at 5:28 pm
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    Thanks for sharing…you are so right to include children in family tasks, and to trust them to use tools…real life tools! So meaningful for children and authentic, which leads to sense of competence, confidence, improved hand eye coordination, greater physical strength, endurance…you know! This is so important for kids today! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • January 31, 2018 at 5:36 pm
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      Thanks! Yes, there’s so much in terms of coordination and attention that they end up developing when you give them real tools to work with, with real-life objectives to accomplish. We had this great set of toys from Lowes that the kids got which required assembly with a hammer & nails. Nothing like nailing your fingers a few times to get you to respect a hammer. But the sense of accomplishment they had in assembling these was so worth it.

      Reply
  • January 31, 2018 at 6:50 pm
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    Superb article. When I “grew up” — the kids in the neighborhood came home and went out to “play.” And play meant anything we defined it to be. Bicycle around. Go to the drug store and get a soda. Play baseball, football, basketball. Explore. Go to anyone’s house we wanted to. My parents never asked me what I did or even checked on me. They expected us back for dinner and that was that.

    I’m not advocating that exactly for parents in present time, but it worked exceptionally well for my formative years. We learned SO MANY THINGS because we had the freedom to do so.

    We bumped our heads and had cuts and bruises and we patched ourselves up. And then went right back outside to “play.” And play hard. The physical universe wasn’t a threat. It was a challenge and often a joy.

    So, I think you’re doing a fabulous job with your kids!

    Reply
  • February 1, 2018 at 12:48 pm
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    I love it! It’s so true, today kids have so many screens in front of their faces they don’t know how to play outside and create mud pies like we did as kids. This is fantastic! I wish we needed wood for a wood burning stove! But my kids have all kinds of things they’ve built out in our back yard. They even play in the freezing cold ( all bundled up of course) they are so happy when they come in to eat a meal! It’s sure beats a zombie TV 📺 head! My kids watch an occasional movie but we don’t make a habit of it! And they actually know how it makes them feel now. They much rather go outside and make a muddy mess of themselves these days!!!

    Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 5:16 pm
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    Years ago I saw a video by an explorer who was the first white man to contact a stone age tribe, I think in New Guinea or one of the local islands. They did already have certain things they had adopted from our technologies, but very few. One was the machete. In the video, he shows a two year-old playing with a machete that he also said was razor sharp. According to this documentary, no child was ever corrected or censured for doing so and none ever, ever cut themselves.

    I grew up in western Montana. I liked whittling and started carrying a knife of one kind or another by the time I was four. (I have since had one on me almost continuously for over 65 years.) Yes, I have cut myself. But I am now nearly seventy and have all my fingers and limbs. This is also despite that it was my responsibility for several years as a pre-teen to chop, stack and carry firewood all on my own. I used single and double-bitted axes, hatchets, mauls, and wedges with a sledge hammer, and never once cut or injured myself. By sixteen I was teaching knife sharpening and knife care in Boy Scouts as well as axmanship.

    Basically, I think you can create PTS-ness by assuring a child over and over, “Cut that out. You’ll hurt yourself.” Or, as in the movie “A Christmas Story”, when Ralphie wants a BB gun, everyone keeps saying, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” And, of course, he does eventually almost do that.

    Reply
  • February 13, 2018 at 7:34 pm
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    Hi Tad,
    Nice to see that you are bringing up your children with real-life experiences. Nowadays, most parents give their kids smart gadgets and think they are doing well as parents. But I don’t like this device approach. Rather I believe in getting kids prepared for the real world.

    Goodluck with your parenthood!

    Reply
  • May 10, 2018 at 11:41 pm
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    I love it! What a fun experience. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve always wondered what kind of lumberjack I would make. That or a fisherman. You just never know until you get to try it out!

    Reply

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