August 11, 2020
Developing Risk Taking in our Children
Encouraging healthy risk taking in your child is a great way to help build their confidence and self-belief. We want our children to have the resilience and tenacity to take risks, both with their learning and in their every day lives. Those who grow up being risk averse and overly cautious may miss out on exciting experiences and fail to challenge themselves effectively.
Here are 4 ideas to help encourage and dehealthy risk taking:
1. Seek opportunities for ‘risky’ play
Creating moments where your child feels as though they are not being watched or supervised (even though they are) is an easy way to allow them independence and help build a sense of capability. Staying out of ear shot or hanging back to allow them this space gives the message that they are trusted. Allowing your child to participate in ‘risky’ activities such as chopping something with a knife in the kitchen or toasting marshmallows on an open fire gives them a sense of autonomy and builds confidence. Find something to ‘allow’ your child to do which excites and surprises them.
2. Consider your responses
We are biologically pre-programmed to want to protect our children. ‘Be careful!’, ‘Watch out!’, ‘Slow down!’, are just some of the cautions we regularly give our children. Although these are given with the best intentions, they may not be the most helpful in encouraging risk taking. Try and make your response more meaningful by helping your child assess the risk at play ‘Hold on tight so you don’t slip off’, ‘Hold the handle of the knife so you don’t hurt your fingers’ can be more helpful rather than just asking them to stop. If we want to encourage risk taking, we also need to keep our reactions in check when a risk is taken and doesn’t pay off. When your child falls, tumbles or fails, keep your reaction measured so they learn that outcome is OK and will be more likely to do it again.
3. Avoid making assumptions
We often recognise our child to be the one assuming they are not capable but we can be guilty of this as parents too. When you’re at the park, hold back from the instinctual habit to say ‘Hold my hand while you do the balance beam’, or ‘No, that one is too high for you’. Allow your child to see if they are capable without making assumptions that they’re not. If they try and fail, it’s still helping them to develop their confidence to try.
4. Watch out for our own fears & model risk taking
As adults we all have our own fears and anxieties; perhaps you’re frightened of spiders or are cautionary around water or anxious about driving. Wherever possible, we should try not to pass these fears to our children who are watching and learning from the things we say and do. We can also take opportunities to model our own risk taking behaviour through showing our children how we assess risks and choose to challenge ourselves. This could be as simple as showing your child you’re willing to try something you’re scared or cautious of; showing them that you’re willing to go outside of your own comfort zone is a powerful thing for your child to see.
Encouraging risk taking in your child is about balance; find that balance between protecting your child and encouraging them to seek out risk. Being overly protective can actually increase levels of anxiety in your child as they have a dialed up awareness to risk and danger. It’s also important to understand the difference between risk taking and danger; giving your child a box of matches to play with is dangerous, supervising and teaching them how to use a match to light a candle is an activity with an element of risk. What opportunities
can you build into your child’s play and experience to allow them more independence, autonomy and risk?
Louise’s recent Instagram Live on this topic can be found here.
This blog post was written by Louise Treherne, Director of Character Education at Role Models. Louise has a degree in Psychology, 12 years experience as a teacher and 5 years as a Senior Deputy Head at a London Prep school. She now works as a Professional Coach and Educational Consultant.