“Mamma, are snakes very dangerous?”, the four year old asked with a most serious expression on his face.
Simple answer – “Yes” – he knows they are dangerous, and merely wants confirmation. Just say it and just be done with it, but you don’t really want your son growing up hating snakes , so ….
… reasoned-out answer – “Some snakes are dangerous and others are not. But you don’t know which snake is dangerous, and which is not, so just leave all snakes alone.” – that should cover all flanks. But will it?
If he is told to leave all snakes alone, how long before his mind makes logical deductions – “leave them alone” means “dangerous” means “the world will be a better place without them” means “practice the latest Power Ranger moves on snakes”. He may not be able to add 5 + 4, but his mind can reason out things much faster than people ten times his age. So, ….
…. a more specific answer – “only some snakes are dangerous. But they will bite you only if you disturb them. So just stay away from all snakes.”. Should work, if not for Steve Irwin and his like. Must not speak ill of the dead, and Steve was a wonderful guy, but did he really have to catch snakes and display them on prime time TV? Wouldn’t kids too young to know better want to do the same, without any of his skill? How about …
… a long winded but totally accurate answer – “Some snakes are dangerous, but not all. And even the dangerous snakes only bite you if they are frightened. So don’t go anywhere near snakes. Some people do, but that is only after they become friends with snakes.” But, what if he decides he wants to become friends with snakes – how would one go about tackling that?
Decisions, decisions, decisions! Why not just agree with him that snakes are dangerous and leave it at that. Time enough to correct his misconceptions when he is older, and more likely to understand subtleties.
You hear your son’s voice at the edge of your brain. “What was it you said, baccha?”, you ask.
“Ma’am told me snakes are dangerous,” he informs you. “But I told her that snakes are dangerous only if you trouble them. If you leave them alone, snakes do not bother you.”
“And who told you that?” You are intrigued. You know you have never discussed snakes with your kid, and you know his father is too terrified of snakes to have ever been able to come up with something like that.
“Nobody”, he says confidently. “I just know it. Dogs bite when you trouble them, and cats scratch when you trouble them. But dogs and cats are not dangerous if you leave them alone. Snakes must be the same.”
You could have asked him what his teacher’s reaction to his statement was, but you don’t. You just give him a huge hug and tell him, “Dead right! No animal is dangerous. They become dangerous only if they feel threatened or frightened, but since you do not know what is going to frighten them, the best thing to do is to just leave them alone.”
“Even lions?”, he asks.
“Even lions?”, you tell him.