As parents we often worry about our kids getting hurt but over protection can also be harmful. Children are more likely to die in car accidents than they are from injuries in playgrounds or your backyard and yet we have become overly fearful of allowing our kids to take risks.
Kids should be climbing trees, hammering nails, using saws and riding bikes in tricky places - just like we did when we were kids.
With good reason of course we should monitor and assess the risks with relation to the age of the child. For example a 10 year old can cope with a higher fall than a 2 year old could. But neurologically, and from a motor learning standpoint, experiencing the consequences of your actions has better long-term outcomes than verbal advice about what to do differently. Motor learning experts call this external feedback versus internal feedback.
Risky outdoor play provides a unique environment where kids figure out how the world works, learn to work well with others, and find creative solutions to problems. It has been said that children who engage in risky play are more likely to experience positive emotions such as enjoyment, excitement, pride, and self-confidence. By allowing kids to participate in risky play, we are demonstrating that we trust them and they’re capable of problem-solving on their own. This can have profound effects on a child’s self-esteem.
Children today are growing up with un-precidented levels of safety which in turn is causing them to live with more anxiety. Spending childhood in a constant state of anxiety is not psychologically healthy. It does not prepare you for the world, which is inherently unpredictable and often dangerous. The key thing kids learn from risky play is how to judge what’s dangerous and what isn’t. They can also learn to enjoy navigating risk.
There are some great initiatives worldwide encouraging outdoor and risky play include:
The forest school in New Zealand which aims to empower children through experiential learning in nature, so that transformation happens in self, place and culture.
https://outsideplay.ca/ was a collaborative initiative between the University of British Columbia (UBC), BC Children’s Hospital (BCCH), and the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU)to help parents and communities reverse the trend that is limiting children’s chances to play outside and take risks in play.
play:groundNYC is a non-profit organization advocating for young people’s rights by providing playworker-run environments that encourage risk-taking, experimentation and freedom through self directed play. They operate a 50,000 square foot adventure playground on Governors Island where kids can access trash, detritus, and junk as tools for play - no parents allowed. Kids roam over this scrapyard, gleefully building and destroying, daring one another and leaping from great heights, running around like crazy.
And just remember when you are out and about letting your children enjoy life and a little bit of risk, pack some Ouchie Powder which you can quickly apply to cuts and grazes even in tricky places to stop bleeding quickly and let your kids carry on playing!