Teaching children to be courageous and adventure helps them learn to take appropriate risks, builds self confidence and increases motivation when faced with challenges¹. It is not always easy to encourage adventure but it is important to allow children to take risks at a young age for their development.
Risky play is also said to improve balance and coordination and even improve social skills and creativity¹. But lets be clear…. Risky play does NOT mean rash or irresponsible play. But how as a parent do you find the balance between protecting your child and allowing them to reap the benefits that they will gain through risky play and adventuring?
Bring Back Adventure and Risk: 7 tips to get you started
Don’t help them
At the playground don’t help them get onto the equipment. This is a great way to know whether your child is able to manage the amount of risk at a certain playground. If you help them up you already know that they are incapable of playing in the playground by themselves. My 1 year old wanted to follow her big sister into the big playground but she was unable to get up on her own. That meant that she had to play in the small playground. In the smaller playground she was able to climb up and down the steps, climb up the ladder and go down the slide all by herself. Now that she is almost 2 she has entered the big playground after mastering the smaller one.
Assess the risk
Assess the risk and determine what is most likely the worst case scenario. If your child is about to cross a running river on a log and they are 3 years old then most likely you will want to step in to stop them to talk about what can happen if they fall in. If the are simply trying to walk across a log on the ground, or even at waist height, then let them try it themselves and develop their balance.
When my 1 year old was playing in the smaller playground by herself I knew that the risk of injury was quite small. Most likely the worst case scenario is she would fall down the 3 stairs, trip on the bridge or fly off the slide onto her bum. Ok… so you might think that I am crazy to let my 1 year old do these things with that type of risk BUT Instead of falling down the stairs she has learnt how to go up and down stairs. While she has flown off the small slide and cried, she has now learnt to put her feet down to catch herself at the end . This has helped her now that she is starting to go down some of the bigger slides.
Let them struggle
Do not rush to help them balance on a log or climb up a feature at the park. Let them try to do it themselves. When you see my 3 year old running around the playground you would think that she was always that daring. I would actually describe my 3 year old as cautious and attentive. It has taken a lot of encouragement to help her take risks. But.. When she used to ask me for help in the playground to get up the equipment, like the chain ladder, I told her that she needed to get up herself or she would not be getting up. The first couple of times she was too nervous to try by herself. Then, when she got the confidence to try, she kept on trying until she made it to the top of the playground.
Encourage your child to take risks if they are wanting to try something. Don’t push them but rather let them take the lead. By guiding and encouraging them you are helping them learn the skill for the next time they try the activity. Next time, remind them that they can do the activity on their own and take a step back.
Accept that there will be scrapes and bruises
Usually their is a chance that my children might get a scraped knee or a bruise when we head out and play. However, the majority of the time they do not get any injury and are just improving their own ability to assess risk. My daughter who turns 2 in May knows that you can’t just jump off anywhere. She has learnt what can happen from experiencing small falls.
Give them Space
Give your children space to explore on their own. Take some time every once in a while and sit back on a bench while they explore whether it is on a playground or in a park. See what they do and where they explore to learn of their capabilities. I have heard that since both parents in a family often work that we have lost sight of what our children are capable of because we are not around them every day. Children are often more capable then we think!
Don’t Rush to Save them
Don’t rush to save them if they get a small bump or scrape. Wait a few seconds before rushing over to see if they need your help or if they are able to work through the boo boo. This also gives you insight into your children’s cries and when they really need your help or when they can work through it themselves.
Sometimes when I am making supper in the kitchen and my two girls aged 3 and almost 2 are playing in one of their bedrooms I hear one of them (often my 2 year old) cry. Before rushing in to see what is wrong I listen to the cry. If the cry is urgent I go right in. If it is not, I wait. Oftentimes, she either recovers on her own and continues playing and sometimes I even hear my 3 year say “Are you ok?” as she gives her little sister a hug and kiss. Then everything is all better.
Letting your children take risks and adventure does not mean that you are not around to help them out. It just means that you are there to guide them through the challenges helping them grow.
Risk and Play Sources
- Mcginn, Dave (2016, August 10) “The Movement to Bring Back Risky Play for Children” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/the-movement-to-bring-back-risky-play-for-children/article31345490/
*Please note that this is all from experience and that I am in not saying that you should not supervise your children but that I am speaking to the benefits of risky play that has been surfacing the media in the last year.