You're Probably Scared to Let Your Kids Enjoy "Risk Play" But Do it Anyway

Risky play is not only good for our kids; it’s necessary.

It’s always scary letting your kids do something for the ‘first’ time.

The first time I let my boys go off on a bike ride by themselves, I sat on the front porch waiting, and waiting, and waiting for what felt like hours.

In reality, it was 30 minutes.

While I gained three new grey hairs anticipating their return, they came back with newfound sense of self-confidence from crossing streets, playing at the park, and even stopping off at a convenience store to buy a Slushie – all on their own.

Risky play is good for kids. In 2014, a principal of an elementary school in New Zealand participated in a university experiment. The aim was to encourage active play. The principal took it one step further, and abandoned recess rules altogether.

The result was a decrease in bullying, serious injuries, and vandalism and a rise in concentration levels in the class.

Risky play is not only good for our kids; it’s necessary. Make time to read this article in Psychology Today about what happened to rats who were deprived of play. It’s incredibly eye-opening.

While all this information is fine and dandy to read, it’s a whole other kettle of fish letting your kids take risks. As a parent, I totally get that, and I have the worry lines to prove it.

So, let’s break it down a bit so it seems less scary.

Risky play involves six different elements.

1) Play with heights

2) Play at high speeds

3) Play with dangerous tools

4) Play with dangerous elements

5) Play with a chance of getting lost

6) Rough and tumble play

It’s quite possible you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, WTF? There’s no way I’m going to let my six-year-old play with dangerous tools because in your head a dangerous tool may be a chainsaw or a power drill. And you know what, you’d probably be right to not give a chainsaw to someone who occasionally still has a hard time getting food in his mouth without it dropping.

But at the age of six, my boys were smashing pennies with rocks out on our front sidewalk. This involved two types of risky play: play with dangerous tools and play with dangerous elements.

Risky play doesn’t mean you’re going to throw your child into a dangerous situation. It means simple things like letting your son or daughter climb a tree or back up a big slide after they’ve slid down. It means teaching them things like how to use a hammer and saw or how to light a fire.

It also means letting them make their own mistakes, because they most definitely will. It’s quite possible they might end up with a skinned knee or a bruise or two.

My younger son learned the hard way that driving a bike while not holding onto the handle bars is something you don’t master in one shot. Five band-aids and a popsicle later, he was back at it.

If you’re ready to let your kids jump into risky play but are having a hard time coming up with ideas that won’t scare the living bejeebus out of you, how about:

  • Potato sack races (we use pillow cases)
  • Tug-of-war
  • Using your local park as an obstacle course
  • Take your kids to a local outdoor running track and let them ride their bikes as fast as they can (wearing helmets of course)
  • Build a birdhouse using proper tools
  • Smashing pennies with rocks
  • Teach them how to cut vegetables and fruit with a paring knife
  • Play a game of flashlight tag in the dark
  • Pitch a tent in the backyard and let them sleep outside
  • Design and build a fort with cardboard boxes

And yes, it is going to scare you the first time they do some of these things on their own. It took all my restraint not to yell at my kids to get down from the tree at the park across the street when they got up to a height that was way beyond my own comfort zone.

But when your son or daughter realizes they’ve just climbed higher than they’ve ever climbed before, the pride on their face is undeniable.

Who knows, maybe you’ll want to do it too.




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