The Benefits of Risk Play in the Early Years
Why is Risk Play Important?
As a parent, we have this overwhelming desire to keep our children safe, to protect them from harm.
This is part of being a parent and is an entirely normal feeling. However, when this desire to protect our children prevents them from challenging themselves, this could hinder crucial skills that we need as adults to withstand the pressures of life.
From birth, we are programmed to take risks. Think about the number of risks involved with sitting up for the first time, standing up, taking the first steps, yet we deem all of these as part of normal childhood development.
However, other risks that may cause bumps, bruises or grazes may be avoided to prevent our children from hurting themselves. But are we holding our children back when we intervene?
This isn’t an advocation to put children in danger but instead encouraging parents to consider risk-taking and its benefits.
“But what if they hurt themselves?”
We often hear the saying, “it’s health and safety gone mad”, and that’s usually because we frequently worry about the outcome of an event on our child rather than focusing on the experience that our child has gone through.
Speaking with Danielle Butler (Operations Director at Tommies Childcare) and her experience as a mother, she says:
“My little boy is two and likes to jump, climb and run. Sometimes, when watching him play, I can see that he is about to fall, trip, or lose his footing. My instinct as a mum at that moment is to protect him. However, I am in the habit of assessing the risks to his play beforehand so that I am confident that any accident he might have won’t be a serious one.
“If I regularly intervene to stop him from falling, how will he learn about the importance of landing on his two feet? If I hold on to him when he walks across a narrow path, how will he know how to balance himself?
“I wouldn’t let him be in a situation where if he fell from a tall height, he would sustain a severe injury, but if I remove every risk, then he will miss out on learning fundamental skills and building resilience. If he ever falls or trips over, I give him the encouragement to try again.”
Managing Risk in Play Provision (2008) says:
“All children both need and want to take risks in order to explore limits, venture into new experiences and develop their capacities, from a very young age and from their earliest play experiences. Children would never learn to walk, climb stairs or ride a bicycle unless they were strongly motivated to respond to challenges involving a risk of injury.”
Exposing children to risk also allows them to understand how to make their own risk assessments before undertaking a particular challenge. If the benefits of taking a risk outweigh the injury they may sustain, then arguably, it’s a risk worth taking.
Developing Skills from Taking Risk
What skills can be developed from taking risks?
Exposure to New Opportunities
Most risk play occurs outdoors, where children have more exposure and access to large play equipment and open spaces. By supporting children to take a supervised risk, we reinforce the idea that it’s OK to “have a go”, even when the activity may be new or unfamiliar to our children initially.
Increasing our confidence comes from taking on challenges and succeeding. If we prevent children from taking on challenges, they risk not developing the self-belief and confidence they require to overcome the challenges that life will, inevitably, throw at them.
There is lots of research about the importance of developing resilience in the early years and throughout childhood. Building resilience helps us gain the skills we need to rise above the adversity we may face as adults without external intervention.
As children develop their resilience, they become more adaptable, curious and able to meet more challenging situations without the fear of failure.
So, the next time you witness your child doing an activity or something that you may usually prevent or intervene in, ask yourself if the benefits of intervening outweigh those of not.