Your child’s safety and well-being is one of the top priorities on your parenting list. But should it really be? Sometimes, letting go and letting your child take risks could be a better option.
I sit on the bench by the playground, watching intently as my son attempts to walk. He takes two wobbly steps, pauses for a second to regain his balance, and then another two steps. This time, he falls, knees first onto the ground. But before that, I see a grandmother stretch her arms out, hoping to catch him. She helps him get up and gives me a polite smile. I want to say, “He can get up by himself”, but I spend too long thinking how I can say it without sounding like a negligent mother who refuses to help her son up. So I simply say, “Thank you!”
Children are naturally drawn to risk. It is what they do, an integral part of their daily play. Think about your own childhood. Do you remember the quivering feeling of butterflies in your belly when you faced your first roller-coaster ride, your first obstacle course, or any type of activity which you were not sure if you could handle?
Then think about how you felt after completing it. Proud, confident, happy? The same goes for kids, even the littlest kid. A one-year-old could be attempting her first steps, a two-year-old could be jumping over a puddle, and a three-year-old could be balancing on a beam. They all want to do it themselves. So why can’t we let them?
Encourage Your Children to Take Risks
The fear of injuries is on the top of every parent’s list. With my first child, I baby proofed every inch of the house – a bumper on every corner of every surface. When she was learning to walk, I bent over to hold her hands while walking behind her. I said ‘be careful’ with every move she made.
In hindsight, why was I afraid of her falling? Would a fall really be that bad? In fact, would she fall? Maybe not! I failed to see that many times, a bruise serves as a far better learning experience than a parent repeating ‘be careful’ for the millionth time.
Now I encourage my children to take risks. I believe they learn in ways that no one can teach when they overcome challenges independently, even though it means getting a bump or two occasionally.
Enjoy the Benefits of Risky Play
The next time you feel the urge to intervene in your child’s risky play, consider these three benefits:
1. Movements associated with risky play such as climbing, rolling, sliding or hanging are not only fun, but also essential for their physical development. Their motor skills, balance, coordination, and body awareness are sharpened. For example, when learning to ride a bicycle, a child learns to shift her body weight to prevent from falling. They learn to adapt.
2. Children take pride in overcoming obstacles themselves. It helps build confidence and independence. Give them the chance to assess risk and manage the situation. Do not jump in to help unless they ask. Our little ones are fully capable of making choices and decisions.
3. Children need to fall, to learn how not to. Engaging in risky play allows children to understand their physical limitations and therefore improves safety awareness. They also learn what is dangerous, and what is not.
But Don’t Ignore Safety!
That being said, I am, by no means suggesting that you ignore safety. Rather, allow your children to take calibrated risks. Finding the right balance between allowing our children to explore and take risks, while avoiding serious injuries is not easy. However as a start, consider doing these:
• Be there to watch them, not follow them. If they are at the playground, give them space to play.
• As long as they are crawling or walking, they are capable exploring independently. Take a seat and keep a watchful eye.
• Encourage them to take risks and have a back-up plan if they fail. We were at an MRT station last week and there was an exit with an extremely long flight of stairs. My daughter insisted on taking the stairs barefoot. I was carrying her brother and a load of baby paraphernalia, so clearly I did not share her enthusiasm. But this was no reason to stop her. I knew that if she could not make it to the top, I just had to join her for a rest on the steps, and that it was okay. So I relented, and she conquered the stairs!
Risk is an Invaluable part of Childhood
Allowing your child to take risks can be especially frightening for the first time. But it is an invaluable part of childhood. There is an abundance of research out there that supports the benefits of risky play. By continuing to adopt a ‘safety first’ approach to play, we are unknowingly impeding our children’s physical development and they may be less safe in the long run. Life is a continuous series of trials; let your children fall today, so they can be stronger and wiser for tomorrow.
Cai recently moved back to Singapore after living in sunny Miami for several years. Mum to two kids (1 and 4 year olds), she is also the founder of Our Backyard – a community that aims to bring families and kids closer to nature.