Little Siberian Girl's Forest Adventure Shows That Kids Can Be Resilient and Capable

©. Tere-Khol administration, via The Siberian Times

Helicopter parents should pay attention to this remarkable 4-year-old's feat. Maybe it's time to allow Junior to walk to school alone?

Last month in Siberia, four-year-old Salgana Salchuk awoke to find that her grandmother wasn’t moving. Her blind grandfather sent her to get help. Salgana left the house at 5 a.m., when it was still dark and bitterly cold. She followed the track of a horse sled and a frozen river, fighting her way through snowdrifts and carrying only a box of matches in case she needed to light a fire.

It took her several hours to travel the five miles to the nearest neighbor’s home, and fortunately she didn’t meet any of the wolf packs that have been plaguing the area’s cattle farmers. When she arrived, medical personnel were called. They checked on her first before attending to her grandmother, who had unfortunately died.

Semen Rubtsov, head of search and rescue in the area, praised Salgana’s ability to make the trip. He told The Siberian Times:

“She knew her way and moved with good speed. It was even easier for her than for an adult to go. Now it is warm in daytime, and the snow melts, but it freezes at night and there is a crust on the surface. Her weight meant she did not break the crust.
“She was dressed very warmly, clothes made of sheepskin. Warm felt boots with sheepskin against the feet. And it was not extreme cold by our standards, only minus 34 C (-29F). This is generally a warm winter.”

Rubtsov also said that, if Salgana had met a wolf pack, her only hope would have been to climb a tree.

According to Salgana herself, she wasn’t scared at all, just wishing she could eat: “I was just walking, walking, walking. And I finally got there.”

I tell you this story not only because the little girl is remarkable – she truly is, even by Siberian standards, which is why the story traveled so quickly around the world – but also because her ability to rise to the occasion stands in such stark contrast to the helplessness of kids raised in North America these days.

At only four years of age, when countless kids are still hearing baby-talk from their parents, drinking juice out of sippy cups, and having their kindergarten teachers help put on their snowpants, Salgana accomplished a task that would intimidate many adults. And she did it alone, without an adult hovering behind her! Kids are capable of so much more than they get credit for.

Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kids movement, points out how threats of danger are all relative: “While we worry when kids climb trees, elsewhere kids’ safety DEPENDS on them climbing trees.” When there’s a roving wolf pack nearby, you’d better be darn sure your kid can climb a tree... fast!

Unfortunately Salgana’s 31-year-old mother Eleanora, who was herding horses in another part of the region at the time, is now being investigated by local authorities for having left her child with the grandparents, who were “unable to take measures to guarantee the child’s safety.” She could face up to a year in jail.

We parents in other parts of the world should be thinking a lot about Salgana’s experience and questioning how raising our own kids in a culture of fear could possibly benefit them in the long run. Clearly, current parenting methods are not working. Parents are supremely stressed. Children are unhappy, unhealthy, and overmedicated. Colleges and universities are experiencing unprecedented numbers of young people incapable of handling real life and having mental breakdowns as a result.

In the words of Rae Pica, an education consultant writing for Parent Tool Kit:

“Kids who grow up afraid of risk will not be problem solvers. They will not be resilient. They will certainly not be able to handle risk, which is inherent in life, when it comes along. Many, in fact, will crumble. And children raised in a culture of fear? Well, that’s just asking for trouble.”

I do not think that four-year-olds should have to do what Salgana did, but surely we can raise our kids so that, should an emergency arise, they are equipped to handle it, more or less. We need to narrow the gap between the coddled children of America and the hardy stoics of Siberia, striving for a middle ground where children are competent, confident, and capable.

Salgana didn’t crumble. She was the epitome of resilience. Now, do you think she’d be able to walk herself safely to school?