Saturday 22 June 2013

The Sunday Parenting Party - Taking risks

Taming the Goblin

Its time for the Sunday Parenting Party. Please link up your parenting posts and check out what others have linked up. Please don't link Kids activity posts, they can be linked to Kids Coop. This week I am linking the following:
(Goblin is 44 months)

Kids need to take risks. It teaches them what their body and mind are capable of; it stretches them, allowing them to gain new skills, and problem solving abilities. It also helps them obtain a realistic sense of danger.
This is true both of physical risks and emotional risks associated with new relationships or trying more advanced academic work.

As parents we want to protect our children. We want to shield them from pain. And sometimes in order to do this we stop them taking risks and we exaggerate the potential dangers. 

"Don't jump off that platform you could break both your arms" 
or worse 
"you will fall and hurt yourself"

So, they jump anyway and they don't fall or break their arms. At best they think you aren't very good at assessing risk. At worst they think you intentionally lied to them to manipulate their behaviour. 
Either way you undermine your position as someone who recognises danger. The risk with that is they won't take you seriously when there is a genuine danger.  

I'm not suggesting we let our kids throw themselves off tall buildings without pointing out the risks. But by carrying out our own realistic risk assessments first, we can provide better guidance to our children and help them develop their own judgement of risk. 
Here is an example:
We were at a park and there were two balance beams with a three foot gap between them and a rope swing to get across. The equipment was obviously meant for older children because Goblin couldn't reach the rope to swing across.  But he wanted to try. 
My initial thought was - he will let go of the rope half way across and fall head first into the beam opposite cracking his skull open.
I could have stopped there and said 
"No you are too small and weak and you will fall and hurt yourself"
Instead I did a risk assessment in my head and estimated that it was statistically unlikely that he'd crack his skull badly, although the risk of falling and sustaining a minor injury was quite high. But we could live with that. To mitigate the risks I did the following

1. Tell your child how to achieve their goal safely and successfully
"Hold on to the rope high up so you swing above the beam, and don't let go until your feet are planted on the furthest beam"

2.  Implement your own actions to mitigate the risk
"I will stand here right by the beam to catch you if you fall" 

3. Even if you are panicking, instill confidence in your child, doubt breeds hesitation and failure.
"Go for it, you can do it"

4. Use failure as an opportunity to refect and learn
"You didn't make it that time, what do you think you could do differently next time to help you get across"

Goblin made it across successfully on his first attempt. But he doesn't always succeed. Sometimes he falls and hurts himself. Mostly they are minor injuries. One day he might hurt himself seriously but I'm hoping that by teaching him to assess risk, by being realistic about the dangers (and the probability of major injury) he will learn what he is capable of and won't be reckless. Here's hoping!

I'm on holiday this week so I haven't had a chance to select any recommended reads from last weeks link up - sorry.  Here is this weeks linky. 


  1. I've recently been trying to step back more and let my 4-year-old try things, where before I would be the one saying, "Don't do that. You'll get hurt!" I have to bite my tongue sometimes, but I believe she learns more by seeing what she can do!

  2. I could not agree more. Children become confident in their own decision making abilities when you let them figure it out. I've realized, just like you, that, mostly, my daughter makes good decisions! We haven't had any bad injuries either (knock wood). Great post!

  3. I am a big believer of letting the children test things out for themselves - but I have to admit I never lift them up or help them onto something they cannot reach themselves - mostly because there are just too many children for me to do this with and still have a functioning back - but also because children don't need to be be able to do everything today... things can take time, they need to grow - and as you write, they need to feel confident about what they are doing - if they are being lifted then they are not the ones in control.

    I have had children scowl at me because I have refused to help - but then the day comes when they manage to get on the swing themselves, or up the bigger climbing frame or up the tree - and the pride that they get for achieving this themselves is so worth all those scowls...

    For me I look at each situation - is the risk potential greater than the learning potential (or I see that it is high risk) - then its probably not a good idea - is there more learning than there is risk (and what is the risk - a grazed knee or bruised ego?) then it all go - giving the support that is needed - and sometimes the support can come from a friend rather than me - as then so much more learning goes on - and is another reason for me not helping them up... I have watched how children have verbally guided their friends up trees and climbing frames as a result of me saying - no I won't lift you up so you can be with your friend.... again the pride is so worth the scowl...

    It gives the chance for the children to be aware of the their own competence

    Thanks for linking it up on my FB page Interaction Imagination


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