Children need daily opportunities to take reasonable risks and challenges in order to develop into strong and capable children. A reasonable risk is any action, activity, or behavior that starts with careful consideration and results in taking a leap toward the edge of safety or danger.
One of our most basic instincts is to protect our children – from all harm, pain, and any conceivable discomfort. However, if children never experience challenges that they must overcome themselves, how will they ever learn how to deal with daily life experiences when they are older?
Here are five ways reasonable risk-taking benefits kids:
1) Practice of Independent Thinking and Self-Reflection: When a child considers a risky decision, she practices the process of decision-making in a matter of moments. “Should I jump from this log to the ground?” Once she makes a decision to take a leap, she must evaluate the decision. Taking time to reflect on the outcome of an action taken is incredibly important. Did the risk lead to success? Or, was it not the best plan to take? Thinking about what to do differently next time leads to more strategic, thoughtful risk-taking in the future. Each time she goes through this process, she strengthens her independent thinking skills.
2) Improving Strength and Safety Awareness: In order to stimulate the senses and develop healthy motor skills, children need the opportunity to take reasonable risks. A child’s neurological system was designed to seek out the sensory input it needs on its own in order to reach the next developmental level. By taking daily risks, children start to develop age-appropriate strength, coordination, and good body awareness. On the other hand, when we consistently keep children from taking risks, we start to see some delays in sensory and motor development that may not have been an issue if they had been given daily exposure to these experiences. This can lead to poor spatial awareness and in essence, without an efficient amount of exposure to risk-taking, children can become more accident-prone and unsafe in the long run.
3) Development of Social Skills: Although some risk-taking is done independently, children often take risks while interacting with others. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to find and utilize their voice among peers. The risk itself might be to share an idea with friends. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to develop the assertiveness and self-confidence they need to participate positively in social settings. Practice and more practice help the young risk-taker learn to balance assertiveness with respect and compassion. And, while voicing an opinion or thought is important in social circles, over time, children recognize that peers may have alternative ideas to consider.
4) Cultivation of Confidence: A good dose of reasonable risk-taking in play results in a comfortable willingness to make mistakes and learn from failure. For instance, let’s say a boy skins his knee climbing a rock wall, but in the process — learns that he can still reach the top. This assurance that a child can overcome obstacles quickly translates to other risky-life decisions presented in childhood. Choosing to step onto the school bus for the first time or signing up for the school play are decisions that kids confront with confidence if they’ve practiced reasonable risk-taking. This confidence is key in childhood psychological development. It’s important that kids learn the excitement of success, the coping skills needed to move through failure and frustration, and the perseverance to try and try again, even if it is uncomfortable and hard.
5) Avoidance of Other Risky Behaviors: Reasonable risk-taking keeps kids from participating in another kind of risky behavior—the unhealthy kind. Parents may think they can protect their children by keeping a close eye on them in the house, but too much sedentary time at home may be spent inactive in front of a screen. Playing outdoors requires a good amount of reasonable risk-taking, but staying indoors puts our children at an even greater risk for health issues and motor and sensory delays.
It’s important to encourage risk-taking in our children on a regular basis and at an early age. For instance, the next time you see a child attempt to climb up a small rock, let them. Simply be present and spot if necessary. Overtime, as the child masters this skill, slowly phase yourself out. Overtime and with frequent opportunities to master new challenges, the child will become independent and confident with taking more and more physical, emotional, and social risks.
Information from Timbernook.com
Risk factors to consider
There are many factors for child care professionals to consider when they are thinking about managing risks. These include:
- Children’s ages, stages of development and temperaments
- Gender – research indicates that boys are more likely to engage in risky behavior, and that sterile environments increase this type of behavior
- Additional needs – some children with particular disabilities or behavioral disorders may be less aware of risks and dangers, particularly in the outdoor environment and therefore may require closer adult supervision at all times.
- Family backgrounds – children may have experienced being over or under protected which means that they may respond differently to their environments and the experiences provided
- Environments including indoors, outdoors and excursion sites. Each environment has unique risk potentials which need consideration. For example, more adults might be necessary on excursions as children’s behavior can be different in new surroundings or when participating in new experiences.
Safe and unsafe risks
Child care professionals have a duty of care to children which is enshrined in regulations and other mandated requirements. Supporting and extending children’s capabilities and their learning about safe risk taking have to be balanced with protecting them from harm by using a common sense and professionally informed approach. All experiences have some level of risk attached to them.
A safe risk means that:
- The benefits from the experience far outweigh the risk of possible harm
- The consequences of the potential risk are likely to be minor or insignificant
- The adults think carefully about the risks, know the children well and have taken appropriate action to minimise the risks.
Considering the risk factors mentioned previously helps to highlight the differences between safe and unsafe risks in different contexts and for different children. For example, children’s level of physical development and previous experiences would influence decisions about the placement of outdoor equipment to ensure safe climbing and at the same time extend children’s climbing skills. If a child in the group was not physically or emotionally ready for a particular climbing experience, the relative risk that is to be found in any climbing activity would shift to being a dangerous one. In this situation, staff would need to physically support the child as he or she climbs or provide an alternative climbing experience to meet the child’s capacities.
Extract from Putting Children First, the magazine of the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC)