The following is by Simple Kids contributor Catherine Way of Adventures with Kids.
Learning always involves a degree of risk and challenge. To learn something new you need to challenge yourself to do something you haven’t done before and risk failing a few times until you master the skill. Children happily challenge themselves to learn new skills. They want to learn to walk, or talk, or ride a bike and they are not put off by a few mistakes or tumbles.
Each new challenge that a child (or an adult) conquers, builds their motivation to learn, confidence in their ability to learn and knowledge of their capabilities.
It is tempting, as a parent who doesn’t want my child to be hurt, to say ‘no’ when my child wants to do something risky. It is tempting to remove objects and equipment rather than let my child learn how to use them. But this deprives my child of the chance to know their strengths and weaknesses and it damages their confidence in their own abilities.
If I want my child to make their own decisions as they grow older, rather than just doing what they are told or doing what everyone else is doing, I need to let them take risks and learn by experience the consequences of misjudging a risk. I need to encourage them to think about the risks that they want to take and how they can keep themselves safe. This is an important life skill.
So, how can you encourage your child to be a safe risk-taker?
Set up the Environment
Set up an environment that challenges your child’s skills but doesn’t expose them to unnecessary hazards.
- Remove hazards. This is why you should fence your pool or make sure there is something soft under the climbing frame in the playground. This is why you put child-proof plugs in your powerpoints or a lock on your medicine cabinet. Taking these precautions allows your child to explore in a safe environment.
- Supervise your child.
- Provide age-appropriate challenges so that your child is engaged when playing and not tempted to behave recklessly because there is nothing suitable to do.
Supervise and Set Guidelines
Learn what your child is capable of by saying ‘yes’ when your child wants to try new things. This gives you the chance to be around to supervise, set guidelines and talk about the hazards.
For example, my toddler loves to climb and I want to say ‘yes’ to his desire to climb. But I also want him to be safe, so I don’t let him climb the bookcase inside where if he falls he will land on hard tiles. I take him outside to the playground where the ground is soft if he falls.
I don’t hold him as he climbs because he needs to know that when he climbs he must hold on. If he gets stuck, I show him where he might put his foot or his hand. When he gets to the top and wants to come down, I don’t lift him down because part of climbing is knowing how to get down. I tell him to come down backwards and help him find places to put his feet.
He has satisfied his desire to learn to climb and learned some things about how to climb safely.
Manage Risks, Prepare, Remind
Encourage your child to assess the risks and possible consequences before they attempt an activity.
Talk to your child about any risks you can see in the activity they are about to try. Ask them how they could make it safer. Talk them through risk assessment and equip them with the skills to assess risks when you aren’t around.
For example, my preschooler is nearly five. He wants to run around outside in our backyard by himself, but we live in Australia and there is a good chance he will run into snakes, spiders and other nasties.
I manage the risk by keeping my garden tidy and removing hazards like piles of logs that might harbor dangerous creatures. But it is still likely that my son will encounter some of the nasties.
So, I prepare him to think about what might happen and what he will do if he does encounter a snake or other threat. We talk about where snakes are likely to be, what he should do if he sees one and when he goes out I remind him to keep his eyes open.
If we want to raise independent, confident and capable adults, we need to encourage our children to accept risks and challenges. So take a risk and let your child do something that scares you. Perhaps you could let your toddler use a knife or let your grade-schooler ride the subway alone.
Do you find it hard to let your child take risks? Do you try and teach them about assessing and minimizing risks?