Reasonable Risk-Taking: Why Your Children Need to Take Them

Updated: Oct 31, 2018

by Angela Hanscom | TimberNook

“Pick me up….pick me up…pick me up!” A little girl whines to her mom. She is standing on a small patch of grass. The mother patiently urges her forward to get to the side of the pool.

“Pick me up….pick me UP!” Her cries grow louder. She looks down at the grass under her feet and shouts again, “PICK ME UP!” The mother waits for what seems like an eternity. “Come, lets go swimming.”

Finally the little girl walks awkwardly over the grass and up to the side of the pool where the mother stands. They then hold hands and walk into the pool together.

The mother could have given in to the girl’s protests and instantly picked her up. It surely would have been easier and less uncomfortable for them both. However, the little girl would never have overcome her fears. Instead, the mother was patient, and reassured the child simply by being present and through subtle encouragement. And because of this, the little girl proceeded with what she felt was a “risk” and walked on the grass to get to her mother.

One of our most basic instincts is to protect our children – from all harm, pain, and any conceivable discomfort. However, if children never experience challenges that they must overcome themselves, how will they ever learn how to deal with daily life experiences when they are older?

Children need daily opportunities to take reasonable risks and challenges in order to develop into strong and capable children. A reasonable risk is any action, activity, or behavior that starts with careful consideration and results in taking a leap toward the edge of safety or danger.

It’s time to ask, “What’s the worst that can happen?” or better yet, “What are the benefits to risk-taking?”

Here are five ways reasonable risk-taking benefits kids:

1) Practice of Independent Thinking and Self-Reflection: When a child considers a risky decision, she practices the process of decision-making in a matter of moments. “Should I jump from this log to the ground?” Once she makes a decision to take a leap, she must evaluate the decision. Taking time to reflect on the outcome of an action taken is incredibly important. Did the risk lead to success? Or, was it not the best plan to take? Thinking about what to do differently next time leads to more strategic, thoughtful risk-taking in the future. Each time she goes through this process, she strengthens her independent thinking skills.

2) Improving Strength and Safety Awareness:  In order to stimulate the senses and develop healthy motor skills, children need the opportunity to take reasonable risks. A child’s neurological system was designed to seek out the sensory input it needs on its own in order to reach the next developmental level. By taking daily risks, children start to develop age-appropriate strength, coordination, and good body awareness. On the other hand, when we consistently keep children from taking risks, we start to see some delays in sensory and motor development that may not have been an issue if they had been given daily exposure to these experiences. This can lead to poor spatial awareness and in essence, without an efficient amount of exposure to risk-taking, children can become more accident-prone and unsafe in the long run.

3) Development of Social Skills: Although some risk-taking is done independently, children often take risks while interacting with others. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to find and utilize their voice among peers. The risk itself might be to share an idea with friends. Reasonable risk-taking allows kids to develop the assertiveness and self-confidence they need to participate positively in social settings. Practice and more practice help the young risk-taker learn to balance assertiveness with respect and compassion. And, while voicing an opinion or thought is important in social circles, over time, children recognize that peers may have alternative ideas to consider.

4) Cultivation of Confidence: A good dose of reasonable risk-taking in play results in a comfortable willingness to make mistakes and learn from failure. For instance, let’s say a boy skins his knee climbing a rock wall, but in the process -- learns that he can still reach the top. This assurance that a child can overcome obstacles quickly translates to other risky-life decisions presented in childhood. Choosing to step onto the school bus for the first time or signing up for the school play are decisions that kids confront with confidence if they’ve practiced reasonable risk-taking. This confidence is key in childhood psychological development. It’s important that kids learn the excitement of success, the coping skills needed to move through failure and frustration, and the perseverance to try and try again, even if it is uncomfortable and hard.

5) Avoidance of Other Risky Behaviors: Reasonable risk-taking keeps kids from participating in another kind of risky behavior—the unhealthy kind. Parents may think they can protect their children by keeping a close eye on them in the house, but too much sedentary time at home may be spent inactive in front of a screen. Playing outdoors requires a good amount of reasonable risk-taking, but staying indoors puts our children at an even greater risk for health issues and motor and sensory delays.

It’s important to encourage risk-taking in our children on a regular basis and at an early age. For instance, the next time you see your child attempt to climb up a small rock, let them. Simply be present and spot if necessary. Overtime, as your child masters this skill, slowly phase yourself out. Overtime and with frequent opportunities to master new challenges, your child will become independent and confident with taking more and more physical, emotional, and social risks.

About the Author

Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook—an award-winning developmental and nature-based program that has gained international popularity. Read the original article.


10910 E. State Road 28-67

Albany, Indiana 47320


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