Does this sound familiar? “Down please”, “No, No!”, “Please be careful!”, “That’s to high!”. Being a parent of any age child means managing risk. What that risk looks like changes with different stages in life. Our current culture puts an arguably excessive emphasis on safety. It is difficult to parent a child who loves to climb, jump, run, go fast and explore without feeling like you need to hover to keep them safe.
Psychology Today published a great article called Risky Play: Why Children Love It and Need It. In it author Dr. Peter Gray states,
“In risky play, youngsters dose themselves with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping their heads and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear. They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out alive. In rough and tumble play they may also experience anger, as one player may accidentally hurt another. But to continue playing, to continue the fun, they must overcome that anger. If they lash out, the play is over. Thus, according to the emotion regulation theory, play is, among other things, the way that young mammals learn to control their fear and anger so they can encounter real-life dangers, and interact in close quarters with others, without succumbing to negative emotions.
When speaking about risky play, it is very important to define what it is NOT! It is not play that ignores kids. Nor is it play where the parent does not step in if the child is in blatant danger. Finding a balance of letting kids play, fall, manage and learn what their body can and cannot do is one of our most important jobs. Safety is very important! But, hovering in the name of safety can steal some very important learning opportunities. Let’s empower our kids with trust and room to calculate and explore!