Risky Play is Necessary Play

Earlier this year LittleMan and I were fortunate enough to come across a fallen log on one of our nature walks. Our experiences exploring that log reminded me of a lovely post I had read weeks before about a group of children exploring a fallen log (Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes). Sandi, the author of Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes, and I have similar beliefs about risky play for children. We both encouraged the children in our care to do only what they personally felt safe doing.

LittleMan at first was tentative, though he became more confident with time. I said nothing and merely stood by observing as he worked.
The Benefits of Taking Risks, Suzy Homeschooler (1)
At one point LittleMan noticed a small bump in his path on the log so he dropped to his hands and knees to crawl across this part, only returning to a stand when he had reached the other side and his path was once again clear.
The Benefits of Taking Risks, Suzy Homeschooler (2)
Just see the look of triumph on his face when he had conquered this obstacle.

LittleMan didn’t personally feel comfortable jumping off the log and that is ok, but if he had felt comfortable jumping then that would have been ok too. I trust him to assess his own abilities and limitations.
Let the Children Play wrote an excellent post about the benefits of risky play which included this simple step-by-step of what we should be doing as we are approaching situations similar to this:

  • assessing the hazards involved
  • considering what we know about these children and their capabilities
  • trusting the children’s ability to make their own decisions about a particular risk
  • relinquishing control

I was hesitant to write about this subject and to share these images of my son engaged in risky play because the world we live generally does believe that children can never be too safe. People who speak out about the benefits of risky play for children are often regarded as “free range parenting extremists.”
I do not personally subscribe to any one parenting method. I’m not free-range parent because I support my son taking risks anymore than I am a helicopter parent because I choose homeschool. I don’t like labels and I don’t make parenting choices based on any particular method.
I read. I think. In the end I make evidenced based choices while also considering my family’s personal dynamic.

Of course we all want our children to be safe, but it is unfortunate that we are learning the hard way, there is such a thing as being too safe. Author Michael Ungar, Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today about how risk taking is necessary to build resilience. He even suggests that lack opportunity to take appropriate risks has caused children to take inappropriate, even more dangerous risks. In other words, the child who does not get to strap on a helmet and ride their bike down that steep hill may later be the child who says yes to underage drinking (for example).

Sure, I could link a bunch of articles and such which describe healthy risk-taking, like this one, but instead I’ll leave it at this:
I let my children take age-appropriate risks because I believe it is crucial in the long term that they develop the type of confidence that only comes from successfully overcoming obstacles as well as the type of confidence that only comes from getting back up after they have fallen down, both figuratively and literally.

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2 Comments to Risky Play is Necessary Play

  1. Kristen says:

    I completely agree. I allow both of my sons the chance to explore, aged 1 and 3, even if the exploring is a little risky. They learn through trial and error. I believe they have to learn what they are capable of themselves, not by what we think they are capable of. Learning to get back up and try again, is a skill that will help them for the rest of their lives.

  2. I’m nervous by nature, but I also believe that risky play is necessary for children. They learn to assess risks and just look at your Little Man’s face when he accomplished is mission – what a confidence builder! In most cases children know what they can handle and what they don’t feel ready to attempt.

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