Yesterday after church, while I was waiting for my first-grader to finish Sunday school, I played in the nursery with my toddler, rewarding him for a fairly successful church service. As we played, I watching a 13-year old boy playing with his 2-year old brother–very differently than I was playing with my 20-month old. They were roughhousing and taking risks and having a blast. There were even times that I thought about asking them to stop, because it was a little much; however, I stopped myself, because they were being safe and respectful while they pushed boundaries.
They played the monster version of I’m Gonna Get You, the older brother pushed the little one around on the scooter wildly, spinning the toddler slide around in circles while his brother slid down, helping the toddler ride a toy down the slide, and helping his younger brother climb over the roof of the plastic play house, pretending he was saving him from falling. And I found myself grinning the whole time.
After reading about the benefits of risk-taking horseplay, including perseverance and confidence, I decided to encourage risk-taking in small, safe ways. Safe sounds contradictory to what risk-taking means, but the key is to let kids feel like they are taking risks and in danger while doing your best to ensure that no harm will come to them. And allowing kids to take risks while supervised and while the stakes are fairly low is the best way to experience them. In the instance of the two brothers at church, it was holding on to the toy as he rode it down the slide or holding onto his hand to pull him up while climbing.
The way I have been allowing risk-taking with my toddler this week has been to encourage him to run down a slope instead of asking him to slow down, to climb over fallen trees by himself on our walks in the woods, or to jump off a step holding one hand or into my arms. One day, I took him to see the horses and pet them face to face, which is fairly intimidating to a toddler who is roughly the size of a horse’s head. My first-grader needed different challenges. We found two climbing trees for him to explore, he threw rocks over the railing of a bridge, and I encouraged him to walk out just a few inches on a fallen tree over a three-foot deep dry stream bed. First he had to hold one of my hands, and when he gained confidence, he did it by himself, grinning. And when my husband wanted him to get down from climbing around the outside of the railing on our deck that is three feet up, I actually argued the opposite. The six-year old said it makes him feel like a big kid–confident in his growing abilities.
Let’s resist the tendency in today’s society to become a helicopter parent that hovers over a child to save him or her from every little difficulty or failure; let’s give our children a little freedom to explore, make mistakes and take a few risks that make their hearts pound a little. It will help them grow into responsible, confident young people.