My daughter can be utterly fearless – take her anywhere and she’ll find something to climb/jump off/push/run at/pull/prod. It can make outings really nerve-wracking, but it’s also one of the qualities that I most admire in her and really hope that she retains as she grows older. If I continue to figuratively wrap her up in cotton-wool will she start to lose that confident fearlessness and sense of adventure?
Most parents and carers are familiar with the feeling: the desire to hover, poised ready to catch or cushion our children as we spot their play activities straying into potential risky territory. “Don’t climb that!” “Watch out!” “Mind your fingers!” “Stop running!” Of course it’s perfectly understandable – our children are the most precious things in our lives and it’s natural to want to ensure that they don’t experience pain or injury, but the reality is that we could be causing them considerably more damage in the long run.
The benefits of allowing children to take risks are many and varied. A quick google will show you reams and reams of research, expert opinion and advice (we’ve written loads of blogs and tips about it here at Eureka!), all pointing to the need for children to experiment, to learn about the very nature of risk in order to develop a sense of danger, to foster the confidence to test, hypothesise and discover, enhance their physical co-ordination and orientation skills. But taking risks will also empower children to push themselves physically and mentally, to learn how to face challenges with resilience.
Now don’t be put off by the term “risky play”. Nobody is talking about leaving your child alone in the middle of the woods – of course we need to keep them safe from serious harm! It can simply be about taking one step back and letting your child make their own mistakes – a few scraped knees from climbing trees, letting children use scissors or sharp objects (within reason!) and letting them explore that tiny bit further away from you when you are at the park or out on a walk.
So here, for my brave little girl, are my new year’s resolutions:
- I will let my daughter take more risks when she wants to play.
- If she falls, I won’t immediately run to her: I’ll wait to see if she needs me.
- I will wait for her to come to me for help, not offer it.
- I will embrace her fearlessness – as much as it terrifies me – and let her make her own mistakes.
So, if you spot me at one of Calderdale’s play centres or parks, hovering as Maddie clambers up the nearest climbing frame or charges off to explore, please remind me to stop playing it so safe!