How to encourage children to take risks (and still stay safe)

Outdoorsy children are likely to encounter risks in their adventuring – and that’s brilliant! In my view, this is one of the main reasons to get my son exploring outside as much as possible. There are so many other benefits of playing outdoors which are obvious, such as developing his curiosity, shaking out his energy, and pushing his motor skills along…but what about those character-building episodes that go hand in hand with risk, like facing fear and not giving up? Whether you are a parent, Auntie, or even a teacher, it really is in your child’s best interests to help them learn to take healthy risks.

Here are a few tips on how to encourage this:

  1. Lead by example – push your own boundaries, right in front of them.
  2. Discuss risky situations in advance (or after the event). Use who/what/why/where/how type questions to let the child come to their own conclusions (eg Whose idea was it? What could you have done differently? Why did you make that decision? Where would you like to try that out? When can we help others?)
  3. Notice any acts of bravery and praise, praise, praise
  4. Ask your child what you can do to help them feel safe when they want to give something scary a go
  5. Realise that you project your own fears on to your child…so put on your positive face!
  6. Regularly introduce them to situations where they can take risks and still feel safe, eg exploring new playgrounds, climbing trees, swimming in different types of water (pool, beach, river, waterfalls etc) rock climbing walls, kayaking, etc
  7. Encourage your child to support their friends/brothers/sisters when they are doing something they find scary – but also to use their common sense and speak up if they think it is too dangerous
  8. Bedtime stories are a great way to introduce themes of courage, bravery, and risk-taking…search out these kinds of books at the library and use them to start discussions with your child about their own courage.

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Now more than ever, children are wrapped up in cotton wool and are spending more time indoors (often in front of a screen). If you think back through history, it has really just been two short generations since these changes have come about. There’s never been such a huge turnaround or difference in the experience of childhood. Perceptions of risk have changed, too. The lures of technology and modern family time pressures are adding to a new generation of risk-illiterate kids…! But when children successfully navigate their way through a risky situation outdoors, they gain so much. It took my son a while last summer to summon up the courage to jump into the water off the back of the boat (even into my waiting arms!) but once he’d done it, I knew that was a huge boost to his self-confidence, resilience, and spatial awareness. If we can encourage children to take positive risks, it teaches them how to manoeuvre, assess options, make firm decisions, and act on them…often under pressure and in quick succession.

So try not to solve your children’s problems for them – instead, provide opportunities for them to take a little risk. Hopefully, this in turn will lead them to persist and persevere in problem-solving in other areas of their lives as they grow.

Has your child impressed you with their bravery lately? Please share below, I’d love to hear your story!

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