One of the most difficult decision as a parent is deciding on whether the risk is too great for our children, do we stop them from climbing up that tree or do we let them do it and risk injury for what they might learn and discover? How do we assess risk and it's benefits. This blog post from the Parents 4 Play Series will disk risk in play and how we, as parents, can deal with it and embrace the benefits of letting our children take risks.
Giving my son his first ‘real’ bike for his 4th birthday was a mixed bag. It bought a lot of memories back from my BMX childhood; the freedom riding a bike gave me, the wind blowing through my hair, the long summers riding in the back lane and going on adventures, the speed, the homemade jumps, the adrenalin, the language ‘RAD!’, the hear misses, the crashes…
Part of me was really proud and excited for him ‘mastering a skill’ that would enable a sense of freedom and independence that would put him in control of something ultimately fast and exciting and dynamic, but from the first shakey hold and wobble to the local shops, part of me knew that the ‘mastering of this process’ was going to be a journey involving successes and failures, tears and laughter.
A week or so after his birthday we had a good space of free time and some nice-ish weather to do some biking. After watching a couple of videos on YouTube we took the pedals off together and then went to the park to do some gliding down some hills.
So there I was (an image you’ve seen a 1,000 times before) a father running behind a bike on a slope, steadying the saddle and then letting go… In that moment, after letting go, standing there with clenched teeth, observing the event unfold several feelings coursed through me all in an instant…
The parental emotional rollercoaster:
Hope: Go on you can do it
Satisfaction: As a parent for having got to that point.
Fear: Please don’t lose control and crash, what will your mum say?
Self-doubt: Was he really ready for this? It will be my fault if he does crash!
Anxiety: What if I have now put him off for LIFE!
Mild Nausea: probably as a result of the above.
Why do I want my child to take risks?
“If you worried about falling off the bike, you'd never get on.” Lance Armstrong
‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And venture belongs to the adventurous. Navjot Singh Sidhu
On this initial occasion however, everything went smoothly, resulting in a slightly more confident child and very proud parent feeling relieved but happy that it went well, willing to go on that roller coaster again. Watching my son take these risks is essentially different from taking risks myself, namely because I have no control over them. This lack of control created these emotions and feelings above. As a playworker and trainer, I often talk about the comfort zones when it comes to understanding and supporting children taking risks within their play. Although this is widely used as a business model for developing innovation and coping with change, I feel that this model also helps us to understand our emotions whilst supporting risk taking in play.
Here Jeff Culley, president of Healthcare Management Solutions, summarises:
"Most people live in their comfort zones, doing what feels familiar. While this is comfortable, no real learning or creativity takes place. When people move into their discomfort zones, they use their courage and begin to act on new possibilities. It is here that exploration and learning begins to take place. Being aware of our actions, thoughts and feelings outside of our comfort zone helps us to identify our opportunities for learning, growing and changing. Just as it becomes a habit to operate inside of our comfort zone, we can also make a conscious habit to expand our comfort zone."
Over the next few months as my son ‘mastered’ cycling I was seemingly entering a discomfort zone, but this gradually lessened as both of our confidences grew to accommodate the new skill set. Now we regular enjoy mountain biking for hours around the trails in the woods. Those early anxieties a distant memory. Now… what’s the next challenge?!
here is a an interesting presentation that could lead you and your children in the next direction:
Scrapstore Play Services offers a range of playwork training for parents that focus on helping children to take risk in play. Phone us on 0117 9143002
Useful Tips For Parents
Think back to your childhood and all the risks you took…
How risky were they?
What did taking that risk enable you to do afterwards?
How did you feel before and afterwards?
Did you learn anything from taking that risk?
Observing your child(ren):
How do you react when your child takes a risk?
Think about what the possible benefits of that taking that risk could be? Your still not comfortable, that’s understandable, so what could you do to build up to this risky play that your child wants to engage in? Are there smaller steps you can take?
Risky Play Prepares Kids for Life the Guardian:
The Role of Risk in Play and Learning Community Playthings:
What a pile of autumn leaves tells us about risk Rethinking Childhood - Tim Gill: