Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A
Parenting Question of the Month I have a rough and tumble child – where to draw the line without being overprotective?

Letting your child take risks sounds like the opposite of good parenting, but the lessons your child learns trying new or hard things can be invaluable to their growth as children and their development into confident, resilient adults. The trick for parents is to be attentive enough to their children to allow ‘safe’ risks that let them build their confidence.

Children are motivated to learn to walk, climb, ride a tricycle, and they are rarely put off by the inevitable spills and tumbles they experience as they strive to learn these new skills. With every tumble, they develop coordination and gain a better sense of their own strengths and limitations. While no parent wants to see their child get hurt, emotionally or physically, teaching your children about how and when to take risks is an important part of parenting, and of growing up.

Encouraging our children to push through challenging moments is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Rather than coddle a child who is struggling or pushing him beyond his capabilities, parents can nurture these moments of risk-taking in their children by standing back a little and letting them work through the challenge at hand. Your child will feel empowered as he learns a new skill, especially when he knows that a loving parent is close by to help him celebrate his successes and hold him if he falls.

Children who take healthy risks become adults who feel confident and capable of making good decisions for themselves. They have better reasoning skills, are more self-reflection, and have a better understanding of their personal limits. As teens and adults they will be less inclined to give in to peer pressure and less likely to engage in reckless behavior. The lessons learned from taking risks in the early years stay with our children for life – and are critical when he or she first learns to love, perhaps the biggest risk of all.

Here are some tips for encouraging empowering risk-taking in your child:

    • Start small and early. Look at your reaction to your child as she learns to walk. Do you run to pick her up when she falls or do you applaud her efforts and encourage her to get up and try again? You are your child’s first teacher, and your attitudes and actions will heavily influence hers.
    • Distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable risks. While climbing a 30-foot tree situated over concrete may be unacceptable, climbing a 10-foot tree growing over grass may be the perfect place for you child to learn to navigate trunks and branches.
    • No one understands your child’s abilities and skills better than you do but be mindful of not projecting your own fears and anxieties. Your child might love to clamber over boulders or handle a snake (nonpoisonous, of course) while you would never think of doing so. Be conscious of when you may be reinforcing gender stereotypes by not allowing girls to take the same risks as boys and vice versa. Think about your child’s abilities and watch and listen for your child’s cues to help you decide whether or not to encourage him or her to take a risk.
    • Assess the situation together. Talk to your child about the risk at hand and its consequences. This teaches children to think about their actions in advance and approach risky situations in specific ways. Ask, “What will you do if this happens?” Note that a true conversation about risks is imminently more helpful than frequent warnings to ‘be careful’!
    • Consider what could go right. Watching your child walk barefoot in a creek may feel a little nerve wracking, but by letting him do it you are allowing him to learn to navigate natural hazards on his own. The result will be feelings of self-worth, confidence and self-esteem.
    • Be willing to let your child try again, even right away, if something didn’t go well at first. The second time she might get it and will get an immediate reward for learning how to be successful. (Think of our Wiggle Wall and the children who get stuck or get scared and ask to be taken out through a window. It might surprise you that some children will want to go back in and try it again if you ask them).
    • As a parent, when you make mistake, treat it casually and say you’ll do it differently next time. You are demonstrating that you are not devastated by failure and that you are learning, too.
Parenting Resources

Healthy Risks Makes Kids More Resilient.. (2010) The Herald Sun Web Site: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/4151243/article-Healthy-risks-make-kids-more-resilient

Kids need the adventure of ‘risky’ play. (August 3, 2008) The Guardian - The Observer Web Site: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/aug/03/schools.children

Supporting young children to engage with risk and challenge. (2010) Teaching Expertise Web Site: http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/supporting-young-children-to-engage-with-risk-and-challenge-2089

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