The Benefits of Risk Play in the Early Years – Part 2

The Benefits of Risk Play in the Early Years – Part 2

You may know that we recently wrote about the benefits of risky play in the early years. However, we received feedback from parents that this is a subject they would like to know more about. So, we are back with part 2, which includes more information about supporting risk play in the home environment.

If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you can find it here:

The Benefits of Risk Play in the Early Years

“The goal is not to eliminate risk but to weigh up the risks and benefits”

Opportunities for risk play tend to occur ‘in the moment’ when children are fully engrossed in their play. However, it is often how the adult responds that either supports children in taking the risk or deters them. 

All children are born with innate curiosity, but often this is stifled when adults imprint their insecurities and worries about taking risks. The purpose of this blog is to help parents and carers make some small changes that will support their children in taking risks. We hope this will also help build your child’s confidence and gain the resilience to take on further challenges. 

As parents and carers, our priority is our child’s safety. However, we all have different levels of tolerance when it comes to staying safe. For example, some parents aren’t too worried about their child taking a fall or a tumble. In contrast, others will do everything in their power to prevent this from happening. Of course, neither of these approaches is wrong. However, you might happen to be a particularly nervous parent. In that case, it’s worth keeping in mind that you could be preventing your child from feeling confident in taking certain risks. But risk-taking is so crucial for their development. So, the next time you are at the park, it can help to watch how other parents respond to the challenges or obstacles that their children are attempting to overcome. As a result, you’ll soon understand why some children become highly risk-averse. 

We think this quote from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sums up risk play perfectly:

“The goal is not to eliminate risk but to weigh up the risks and benefits. No child will learn about risk if they are wrapped in cotton wool.” (Children’s Play and Leisure – Promoting A Balance Approach, HSE)

Our Role as Parents

Climbing trees, sliding, riding bikes and generally spending most of our time outdoors (where risks are much more significant) are all normal parts of childhood development. Unfortunately, however, there has been a tendency to steer away from this type of play in today’s society.

Sadly, this has led to young people perhaps not having the skills and resilience to overcome challenges. They may also struggle to move forward when faced with adversity or bounce back when things don’t go well the first time around.

As adults and as parents, we play an essential role in ensuring that our children develop the confidence to take risks and try again. So when watching your children play, try to think about some of these things below:

  • Think about the positive learning taking place. Are children benefitting from these opportunities (developing skills, being outdoors, using ‘real’ materials, developing balance and coordination skills)? Are they getting stronger and better at climbing, jumping or running?
  • Risk assess the hazards. Is the activity they are doing a genuine risk, or will it at most result in a bump or bruise? If you know that the worst possible injury they may sustain is a cut, graze, bump or bruise, then you could argue that the benefits probably outweigh the risks.
  • Think carefully about the language you use. Children who regularly hear you saying things like, “don’t go there”, “come away”, “come down”, “that’s dangerous” may develop anxiety towards risk rather than confidence. Instead, try saying things like, “make sure you concentrate”, “be careful”, and “do you think you can manage that?”
  • Give children enough time to express themselves. During our busy lives, children’s opportunities to play and use their skills are often cut short. But we should allow children uninterrupted time to engage, particularly in outdoor play, for a sustained time. This will profoundly impact their development.
  • Don’t always help. As parents, we often find it difficult to stand back and not interfere. However, by doing so, you are allowing valuable learning experiences to happen. Hurting yourself, falling or not succeeding on the first go is all part of the process. Be careful not to have too much input during these moments. 

Supporting risk-taking is hugely important, but you always need to be mindful of your child’s capabilities. Whilst most children will be motivated to explore and push the boundaries, they also know their limits. As adults, we shouldn’t force children beyond what they can do, as this can be pretty traumatic and lower their confidence.

Risk Play Activities to Try at Home

These ideas are appropriate depending on the age and stage of development that your child is at. Please consider this when thinking about trying these activities at home or a park.

Toddler supported with crate walking to develop balance and confidence

Jumping off the bed

This may sound simple and will, of course, depend on the height of your bed from the ground. However, allowing children to jump off the bed teaches children about spatial awareness and how to land. They will also be thinking about what might happen if they don’t land on two feet.

Rough and tumble play

If allowing rough and tumble play, it’s important to set the boundaries so that children know what they can and can’t do. But, it’s also great fun! Rough and tumble play is often encouraged for boys, but girls will enjoy and benefit from this type of play too.


There are so many pieces of equipment you can buy, from small climbing frames to adventure playgrounds. These are brilliant in supporting children’s risk play, with many of them developing children’s climbing skills. Children can take so many risks when climbing; however, be careful not to intervene where it is not needed.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek is a classic! It provides children with the risk of a parent being ‘absent’ (but not entirely, of course). So there is an element of ‘danger’ for our little ones, as they try to find a great hiding place where they won’t be found.

Crate stacking

Milk creates, or other crates are great for children to use. Crates can be stacked or placed in line with distances between them, challenging children to reach their legs across to the next crate.

Climbing upwards on a slide

You’ll need to allow this when no children are waiting to come down the slide! Children use many different skills when climbing up the slide instead of sliding down it conventionally.

If you want to keep exploring risk play and childhood development, we recommend reading No Fear: Growing Up In A Risk-averse Society by Tim Gill.

Happy risk playing!

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