“Be careful!” Nod your head if you’ve said this to your child today.
Yeah, me too.
This well meaning phrase is used ad nauseum in the modern world. There are a lot of dangers out there, yes. We love our kiddos with every ounce of our being, of course. The mama bear instinct is real. Abso-frickin-lutely.
But, when does protecting our kids become riskier than stepping back and allowing for exploration? When does swooping in to prevent the accident become more harmful than the scraped knee or bruised elbow?
Telling our children to “Be careful” any time they try something that makes us feel uneasy sends the message that we don’t trust them and that they aren’t capable. It doesn’t even necessarily protect them from harm.
Let’s consider what risky play looks like for a second. This may vary from person to person, but generally, it includes activities that could result in falling, bumping, cutting, or spilling, right? Activities that cause an emotional mess or a physical mess are the ones we mamas seem to like to avoid. And who can blame us? Motherhood is tiring!
But let me ask you something– do you learn more when you’ve done something all on your own, albeit with some mistakes or do you learn more when someone does it for you and it turns out perfectly?
Just like us, our children learn best from their own lived experiences. It is our job as parents to let our children figure out the world around them, and they do this best by exploring and truly interacting with it.
So how and why should we create opportunities for risky play?
What does risky play look like?
- Allowing your unsteady little walker to waddle around without hovering or interfering. This includes allowing her to fall from time to time!
- Providing safe areas for your little one to practice balance and climbing, ALLOWING her to fall if conditions are acceptable.
- Creating opportunities for your children to get wet and dirty! Yes, clean up is involved, but it’s a great sensorial experience and mud won’t hurt them!
- Keep some real tools, materials, and utensils available to your little ones. They learn so much more from working with these items than plastic toys. They provide opportunities to learn how to clean up when something breaks and it helps them learn how size and material correspond to weight, which plastic doesn’t do.
Some benefits of risky play:
- It creates cognitive, emotional, mental, and physical challenges for your kiddo, which are so important to their brain development.
- Children learn cause and effect. Through risky play, they learn about natural consequences– if I do this, then this.
- They refine their balance and coordination if given the opportunity to climb, run, and fall.
- Resilience, persistence, and determination are fostered when kids come up against challenges and have to find ways to move forward.
- Creativity and problem solving are cultivated when children learn as they go and think through their actions, next steps, and solutions when needed.
Does it still sound scary to loosen your grip and give your child more freedom to take chances? That’s okay! Start small. Choose one thing to shift– perhaps that’s simply replacing your common “Be careful” with a more empowering phrase like, “Make sure your body feels safe.”
Our goal in risky play is not to let our children get hurt, but to help them grow in confidence and self-reliance!