Children can be risk assessors too…

‘Be Careful’ is a phrase that has become all too common in parent-child relationships. Of course we want our children to be safe, to not get hurt and ensure that the decision that they are making are thought through, considered and well executed. However we cripple children’s ability to self monitor and assess risk for themselves when we place that little seed of doubt in their mind that ‘careful’ is what they need to be.

There are many respected professionals in our world. People who are trying to help make a shift in the vocabulary we use when we guide and support children through situations that are fun, exciting, exhilarating and potentially a little dangerous and scary. After all, it is part of our role as the adult to help children navigate their way through the challenges this world throws at them. We need to remember there are ways we can do this without wrapping them in bubble-wrap and removing all opportunities for them to ‘look out’ for themselves.

Most children are naturally great risk assessors. When given the opportunity, time and situation to be able to exercise this skill, they can use their senses to understand the situation they are in and make measured decisions to plan their response, next action or find a way out! We tend to stifle that innate ability when we stop them from taking risks in the first place. We remove all opportunity for risk, we instil exaggerated fear of a situation because we share our own ‘gut feelings’ with them before they have a chance to listen to their own internal warning signs.

Risk permits children to push themselves to the limits of their capacities and encourages them to progress. Rising to challenges, embracing risks and taking an “I can do” attitude are important characteristics of effective learners.
Risk and Play, Josie Gleave, 2008

Across the globe, there is a movement to replace the term ‘be careful’ with the question ‘do you feel safe’ or even better still ‘how do you feel up there’. These two options remove our adult, on the ground judgement from the situation and allow the child to reflect and think about what their body is telling them about the situation they are in. When given a range of opportunities for them to answer this question for themselves, they start to find ways to discern between the feeling of good risk and bad risk. They find their own balance between acceptable and not acceptable levels of fear, they learn to judge between exhilaration and danger (and as boys especially get older and older this line starts to become very thin…)

It is important that you help children develop their understanding of safety… is about self awareness. Young children are pre-programmed to stretch themselves… Neuroscientists suggest children consciously seek out uncertainty both physically and emotionally in their play and that uncertainty in play situations not only helps to shape children’s emotions, as they experience things like fear and exhilaration, but that uncertainty also fuels the motivation and reward regions in the brain providing the impetus for more discovery learning.
Burghart, 2005

Risk is an incredibly important factor in children’s lives. Without opportunities to experience and manage risk for themselves. They miss out on the opportunities to develop those skills for later life – when they get the keys to their first car for example.

A great blog post we came across gave 5 ways we can help let a little bit more risk in children’s lives.

1. Teach your child to use real tools
There are wonderful child-sized tool kits that are miniature versions of the real thing: small hammers, screwdrivers, saws, clamps, and safety goggles. Teach your child the right way to hammer a nail and give her the space to practice hammering some nails into an old stump.

2. Back off at the playground
Everyone wants their child to be safe, but the best way to do this is to give that child a little space to master his or her physicality. Resist the urge to lift your child up to a higher place; a child who cannot climb by himself up the tall ladder to the play structure may not be ready for that specific play structure. Let him work his way up to it, on his own.

3. Allow for some freedom
Work on your own comfort level by gradually giving your child more freedom and a little bit less supervision. As your child grows and gains confidence, allow for larger freedoms; for example, letting your child ride his bike to the local playground a few minutes ahead of you. With greater risk comes greater responsibility. Your child will understand this.

4. Climb trees
Seriously! It’s an amazing thrill and not as dangerous as you think.

5. Allow for more open-ended play
As long as your child is not infringing on the rights of others or just plain being rude, what’s the harm in running up the slide rather than only sliding down it? Allow for climbing and out-of-the-box exploration. Break some rules every now and then! Your child will be better for it.

You can read the whole article by Lauren Knight here –

5 ways to let a little more risk into your child’s day (and why that’s a good thing)

We also recommend you check out Tim Gill’s website too – Tim is an advocate for children and the access of free play and society’s role in allowing for this special aspect of children’s lives.

Some other food for thought… LESS IS MORE: Building confidence

In Educated by Nature programs we model positive, empowering and confidence building language that supports children to take risks and provides the space for them to experience their environment and make necessary decisions to navigate through them to help develop a sense of self.