Kids need to take risks for natural development. Wrapping our kids in cotton wool and not allowing them to do risky things affects their wellbeing, development, decision-making, confidence, and resilience.
According to Psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud, if children learn to listen to fear, then they become afraid of being afraid and won’t try anything.
If your kids, see potential danger and say to themselves “It must be scary” without even giving it a try - it is a bad thinking formula. Rather, a healthier thinking formula is: “I’m afraid, that must mean I’m doing something I’ve never done before”.
We adjust the way we look at a potential risk because of the fear we feel. Facing fear is a life skill.
Outdoor play gives children a sense of freedom.
As an ex-teacher, I remember the minute recess began, the kids broke free with excitement and laughter. They were running, jumping, skipping, or playing ball. The younger boys would play “archeology” and dig up rocks in the dirt with another stone or stick they found. Some would climb trees, swing from a rope in the tree, and hang upside down from monkey bars. They were allowed to do risky things and they used every minute to do it.
Risky play helps kids to figure out how their bodies work.
It helps their self-confidence, resilience, and it actually reduces the risk of injury because they’ve managed to figure it out for themselves without fear being induced by a parent.
There is always a chance of injury, but they need to test out the environment for themselves. Don’t run to save them, wait and see if they are able to work it out for themselves. Risky play helps children with problem-solving.
Learn what the academics have to say
Mariana Brussoni is a developmental child psychologist who has investigated child injury prevention and children’s outdoor play for 20 years. Her research focuses on investigating and promoting the importance of outdoor risky play for children’s healthy development and wellbeing.
She believes that above all, outdoor play – with its risks – comes with a great developmental benefit for children.
Outdoor risky play, including unsupervised outdoor play, rough-and-tumble play, play at speed, at height, with tools, with elements such as water or fire, promotes not only children’s social and physical development but also emotional well-being, self-confidence, risk management, and physical activity.
In the last few decades, there has been a 50% decrease in the amount of time children spend outside in play.
We view risk as something negative. Parents are afraid of allowing their children to be exposed to snakes, dangerous playground equipment, poisonous plants – all relevant fears in today’s world - but as parents, we often underestimate our child’s ability to manage those risks.
Angela J Hanscom, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist tells us in her book, Balanced and Barefoot, about how many children now need occupational therapy because of sensory-motor and balance issues. She says that 1 in 6 children are being referred for problems that used to be rare because their bodies are not being challenged through outdoor risky play and are not developing properly.
According to Judy Klein, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, “risky play is child-directed. It may involve height or speed or dangerous tools like knives and axes, fire, deep water, dark, uneven terrain. All these things provide the best arena for children to develop their sensory-motor skills and balance.”
Playground equipment is now unchallenging because of the call for it to be engineered so that it is “safe” - it has lost its edge and become less fun according to the children themselves.
Our children’s sensory system is in jeopardy
Children need to taste an assortment of tastes, touch different textures, smell unusual smells, see variety, and hear three-dimensionally.
For example, their vision is developed through jumping from rock to rock or walking across a river on a log, their touch is developed by playing in the mud, running barefoot in the rain, and twirling in the wind, their taste is developed by tasting varieties of herbs, edible plants, and pungent foods like olives, garlic, and cheese. They need to smell wet dirt after rain and spring flowers and newly mowed lawn. They need to develop their hearing by listening for sounds that are far away and close, rumbling sounds, water sounds, high and low sounds, and identifying where they are coming from.
Proprioception is when children learn how to use their bodies and where they are in space (without looking). They learn this by pulling, pushing, and lifting heavy objects.
Without these stimuli, their sensory and gross motor skill development is greatly affected.
Klein says: “Young children need five to eight hours a day of this kind of activity. Elementary-aged children need at least five hours of risky play a day, but sadly, this is not happening.
Studies have shown that when children are allowed to make a decision that exposes them to risk, they develop a clear strategy for minimizing harm. This gives them confidence and resilience.”
We love our children and loving them is allowing them to take risks.
After all, this is what first aid kits are made for.