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April 24, 2024

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Healthy Risk-Taking for Little Kids

Think about your best childhood memories, and chances are they involve free play without a grown-up around.

Sometime when you least expect it, you may catch your little one doing something that sends your heart straight into your throat. He's climbing higher than he should. Or he's dangerously perched atop a bookshelf. Or he leaps, without thinking, from chair to sofa — clearing the glass coffee table. 
     Some children are just born risk-takers and while science speculates that sensation seeking has a genetic component, pinpointing it has not yet been done. Not that it would help in a dicey moment.
    “A thrill-seeker wants to master a task,” said the late psychologist and author on resiliency, Edith Grotberg. 
    But for parents wringing their hands in the trenches, that's cold comfort. You want your child to do things, climb, grow, challenge himself, but you also want him to be unharmed. Stopping your child from trying new things is akin to tethering him with a leash, but most parents are not inclined to leave their kids' safety up to chance. So how do you encourage your child's reasonable sense of adventure without shutting it down altogether?
    From the time a baby starts walking, he is learning about the world through physical play. Supervising him means you have to weigh the risks of physical play versus safety. If you are constantly telling your child to stop or when to go or stay, he can't — he won't — develop his innner instinct for setting his own limits.

Encourage Healthy Risks

While you may worry that your little one is taking too many risks and could potentially harm himself, you can loosen your reins a little by:

Not rescuing right away unless he's in danger: For instance, if your child is climbing on a structure to a level that makes your knees weak, before you shout, "Get down from there right now!" get yourself into a position where you can help him if necessary, but also observe him to see if he is confident and navigating safetly, suggests author Tamar Chansky in the book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety (Harmony; 2014).

Don't say, "No" Right Away Before He's tried Something Within Reason: Many parents are quick to say, "Be careful!" and often stop their child before he tries something. Saying "No" is OK when it's absolutely necessary, but moms and dads who quickly say it risk tuning their child out. Save your "no" for when you really, really mean it so it has impact, says Chansky.

Teach good judgment: Kids ages 3 and up need skills to do things safely. If you observe that your child is very physical and is thoughtlessly getting himself into risky situations, signing him up for a movement class of some kind may be helpful, experts say. Channeling kid energy in safe and fun ways is the best way to providing satisfying action for your little thrill-seeker. By taking your child to places where he can enjoy climbing and leaping without hurting himself you will help him keep his need for thrill alive.


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.