This post was inspired by watching my son step on a basketball, fall, and wickedly scrap his knee. As I assessed the situation and tended to his wound, I couldn’t help but think there was no way I could have helped him avoid that. He wasn’t looking as he turned to run and stepped on a ball that was rolling by his feet. The bottom line was this: Kids can get hurt doing anything with anything…AND THAT IS OK! They learn from it.
If I acted like our town (which I care deeply for) with how they build playgrounds…I would have replaced my driveway with a bouncy foam floor and removed all balls from our yard…I would have also put up signs warning my kids of all the risks associated with everything found on our property…moreover, I would then buy knee pads for my kids so they can’t scrap their knees anymore…I would also make it mandatory to be present as they played. Yikes!
Too much, you say? Yet have you looked around lately? Society is a childproofing the world, and parents are overreacting when it comes to risk associated play. I am guilty of this, as well. I find that this appears in two ways with my kids:
- If I don’t want something bad to happen (injury, broken things, etc.), I will completely remove the item in question. This way, I eliminate the possibility of a less than favorable outcome.
- Micromanaging their play. I did this more when they were toddlers. This shows up in saying things like: “be careful” or “take your time” or “watch out!”
But what are we really doing besides providing ourselves convenience of not having to deal with crying and band-aids? Essentially, we are robbing our kids of valuable, teachable moments where they can develop.
Removing risk cripples our child’s development. Some of the ways their development is crippled by overprotection:
- Inability to assess risk and solve problems (critical thinking)
- Risk aversion (being self-reliant and how to handle anxiety)
- physical and manual competence (less exercise, hand-eye coordination, lack initiative)
Now I am not saying that we should not have a watchful eye or not let them enter reckless abandon. I am simply asserting that we have a great opportunity to teach our kids responsibility, awareness, and foundational life skills with the risk-associated play.
Below are five things that you should let your child do and coach them along the way.
- Wrestling– Wrestling or roughhousing does wonder for the kid’s development. They get to test all of their muscles while building awareness and coordination. Wresting is a great exercise! It also teaches respect for others as kids will often learn how to create rules around the “fighting.” When I wrestle with my kids, I state a rule like no hitting. Then I let them give me a rule or two to follow (usually they say no tickling as I am a sucker for making them laugh!).
- Build something with real tools (hammer/saw)– I once gave my son a scrap piece of wood with a few nails and screws. That is all he did for two straight days (AND IT WAS A FREE ACTIVITY). He did bang his fingers a couple of times and scratched my porch, but he now has real-life skills. When misused, tools can be very dangerous, but by starting them at an early age, they can develop respect for them and workable knowledge of how they function.
- Climbing– Let your kids climb the tree (rock, steep hill)! This activity is great for developing their risk assessment skills. It also fosters personal confidence that they can think out and achieve a challenging task. Let us not forget how their motor skills and fitness increase.
- Using a knife– This one almost belongs in the tools category, but this goes beyond just creating something. When I grew up, I was allowed to carve sticks and wood whenever I wanted. Talk about artwork and satisfaction! With my dad’s guidance, I learned how to hold a knife correctly, what direction to carve in (away from the body), how to keep a blade sharp, and how careful I needed to be. I am still amazed today by the number of adults who do not know knife basics and end up in the ER. Learning proper skills and a healthy respect for knives pays dividends later in life.
- Build and tend to a fire– Yes, fire! Just like knives, many adults never learned the skills or respect for one of nature’s most powerful forces. I grew up with a fireplace and a wood stove. I learned early on how to build a fire, tend to it, and manage it safely. Respect is what they will be building here. Work with your kids on this one (keep it supervised). Allowing them to tend to a fire pit is a great way for them to learn the ins and outs of fire care.
We cannot protect our kids fully from life (nor should we). Yet, by allowing the right risk-based activities, we can coach them to build meaningful life skills, respect, and lay a foundation of what it means to be a fully functioning adult.
When I began writing this post, I followed up with some research to validate my feelings. To my happy surprise, much has been studied on this. If you would like more information, here are some of the resources that I came across:
- 50 Dangerouse things you should let your kids do (book) by Gever Tulley
- Art of Manliness article: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/23-dangerous-things-let-kids/
- Art of Maniliness article: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/boosting-your-resiliency-part-2-avoiding-learned-helplessness-and-changing-your-explanatory-style/
Photo by Dan Edwards via Unsplash