It might seem completely absurd and unimaginable that a parent whose role in a child's life is to be protective figure should ever think about exposing them to anything that could potentially hurt them. Yet educators and child psychologists these days are harping on the importance of encouraging young children to take risks ! And not without good reasons either.
Studies have shown that when children are allowed to take risks, notably during play, they learn a great deal of emotional regulation, especially where fear and anger are concerned.
Let's face it: whether we like it or not the little ones will leave the nest one day and be out of the protective circle parents draw around them. And when they leave this circle of safety, the best ammunition they can have with them is knowing how to tackle their fear and anxiety when tough situations arise, and being able to change and adapt to overcome adversity. To equip children to be able to do that, parents need to let them be risk-takers from a young age - not just physically but also socially and emotionally. But of course, risk-taking only pays off if it is within a broader sphere of safety and comfort!
How do you encourage little ones to take meaningful, necessary risks without being on either the overprotective or overly imposing ends of the spectrum.
Let the fear go
We, as adults, tend to teach kids to fear certain things because we are scared of them - be it heights, depths, certain animals and insects. We also get anxious about the little ones injuring themselves and get very prescriptive about what they can do and cannot do. "You can't do that!" - a phrase uttered so frequently and habitually. It helps for adults to check themselves and understand if their fears are excessive and crippling children's abilities to build new experiences.
CELEBRATE THE RISKS YOUR CHILD TAKES
Let the kids know when you notice they have taken a risk - it could be a physical risk like entering a swimming pool for the first time or a social risk like asking a group of children at the park if it is possible to play with them. Acknowledge that it was something that could potentially have been very terrifying but that they were very brave to do it. This will help them give a confidence boost as they know that it is only normal to be terrified but that it is also noteworthy when they overcome their fear and act in spite of it. You can even come up with unique ways to celebrate each venture, small or big.
Validate their fears
The starting point for taking risks is fear. Fear mobilises us and provides an opportunity to garner the energy and motivation needed to act. So do not dismiss the power of fear. If you sense that your child is fearful and apprehensive to do something, be attentive and empathetic. Let them know you see and understand they are scared and it is okay for them to be scared but you will make sure they are safe. Tell them they can take their time and there is no rush to do anything. This is where parents can create a sense of safety that is necessary for taking risks!
Create a sense of control
A feeling of control can be a great remedy for fear! When fear sets in and wreaks chaos, allow your child to feel that they have access to options and can have some degree of control over their situation. For instance, if your child is going to a school for the first time, stop at the entrance and tell your child they can decide if they want to go in immediately or take some minutes first before going in. If they have to get into a swimming pool, they can decide if they want to watch one more person go in first before they enter the pool. This space to pause and regain a sense of control can help the child feel on top of a situation.
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