It may seem counterintuitive to say that children need safe ways to take risks right now, but that’s exactly what experts are recommending in order to help young children develop a sense that they have control over certain aspects of their lives – even when many things feel out of control.
According to an article on the parentsleague.org website, “our brains are wired to want control over our lives. In large part because a low sense of control – or feeling helpless, hopeless or overwhelmed – is the most stressful thing we can experience… Hundreds of studies have found that this sense of control – even more than actually being in control – is associated with virtually everything we want for our children, including physical and mental health, self-motivation, academic achievement and career success…
We recommend telling young children, ‘It’s your call’ as much as possible – and going with their decision (unless any reasonable person would say, ‘That’s a terrible idea’).”
Rusty Keeler, in his new book, Adventures in Risky Play, discusses the role outdoor learning can play in giving children a sense of control as they master appropriate risks. He first explains that assuring children’s safety from true harm must be taken as a given, but then goes on to write:
“Consider this, opportunities for measured risk-taking can create more able-bodied and self-assured children who will be better equipped to live safer lives in the long run than if we overly protect them to be safe in the momentary short term. If we stop children from being able to come in contact with perceived risky situations or elements in their worlds, we are setting them up to be less able to know how to be safe in the future when we are not around to protect them. We want durable, resilient, sensible children who grow up to become durable, resilient, sensible adults. If we jump in at every sign of danger, or have the goal of eliminating every chance of a hurt, loss, or injury, we are doing the development of that child an injustice. We are cutting out perhaps the most important aspect of growing up healthy and safe: coming in contact with risk, assessing it, and making one’s own decisions about how to proceed, how to be safe. This can only truly come from experience and knowing who you are and what you can handle; and what you don’t want to handle and would rather say ‘no’ to. This is the very definition of an empowered and self-aware child.”
Source: “Children Need a Sense of Control,” by Parents League of New York, March 31, 2020, parentsleague.org
What is Your Yes?
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Adventures in Risky Play: What is Your Yes? goes to the heart of risk-taking and children. As educators working with young children, we all have boundaries and feelings around what risky play is allowed. Rusty Keeler invites us to examine the cage of boundaries that we have created for ourselves and our children. He challenges us to rattle our cage and discover where the lines are movable. In our role as educators and caretakers, when we allow children to play and confront risk on their own terms, we see them develop, hold their locus of control and make choices on how to navigate the bumpy terrain of a situation. What better teaching tool for life is there?
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It would be wonderful if Exchange could offer more articles around advocacy, particularly with policy makers and licensing officials. It is one thing to promote risky play, which is essential, and another to help people learn to stand up for it. Speaking to authority is, and always will be, important as we stand for the health and well-being of children. Many current regulations do not support healthy practices for growing children.