Worth the Risk?

Finding safety through risk taking.

"Be careful!"

How often have you uttered these words to your children? If you’re like most of us, it feels like at least a hundred times a day. (If you have a toddler, it might be closer to a thousand.)

As parents, many of our life experiences have taught us to always be alert to potential dangers, and we start sharing that fear with our children almost immediately.

Of course we keep our kids safe by mitigating the hazards that are within our control. We use car-seats, we hold their hand across the street, we require life jackets around water- among many others.

Still, we worry.

We wonder if at the end of the day we’ll find them as whole, happy, hopeful and brave as they were upon waking this morning.

How can we protect them from the world, from other people, from a raised curb, from a fall, or a scrape?

But the question is: if we manage to protect them from all potential dangers, have we really helped them?

Or does it actually leave them more vulnerable?

Early childhood experts say exactly that: too much hovering is detrimental to developing children’s resiliency.

Fear isn’t what we want for our children, so how do we help them stay safe without using the language of fear in our every caution?

The answer is trust.

We have far less to fear when we are able to trust our own abilities, our child’s budding capabilities and in the good will of others.

Easier said than done, right?

Here are some ways you can develop trust in your child.

1. Observe them.

Struggling to figure out the how much risk your child can handle?

Watch them.

Take a few moments to observe, nearby, but without intervening.

This is critical in determining hazards versus age-appropriate risk taking. Our children need our back-up in truly hazardous situations and our observations allow us to find the ever-changing line between the two.

From one day to the next, their physical, social and cognitive skills grow.

Careful observation lets us know when they need our support, and when they can handle the risk. It also gives us a front row seat to their victories as they conquer obstacles and solve problems.

How awesome is it to see your child finally make it to the top of the staircase, or find their balance on the scooter all on their own? (Pretty freaking awesome.)

2. Ask: "What's your plan?"

Our role is to listen, guide and facilitate solutions - not show our child how much better we are at navigating every situation.

Before you teach or instruct (or even just do it for them!), give them every opportunity to find their own path. And this takes a lot more time than we often give. If you are concerned, ask "what's your plan?" Then listen. Your child will process the risks and strategies as they talk. It is not an invitation for your suggestions. It is an act of respect for their work.

3. Follow their lead.

When they're not coached, pushed, or placed by adults in situations that are beyond their abilities, they can make the right calls.

Even very young children are learning how their bodies move and what feels safe.

They may climb, balance, move toward a step, and slowly examine the edge. When they are trusted to find their way on their own, we can be there to observe and respond when they ask for help.

Children are more likely to fall from a climbing structure when they are helped up by an adult. Even with the most careful observation, only our children can truly know what is safe for them in the moment.

When we stop predicting and overriding their judgment, they learn to listen and trust their own risk assessment.

4. Get comfortable with discomfort.

Your own and your child's.

We need to allow our child to try to overcome challenges and solve their own struggles.

Trust builds a relationship where our children can ask us for what they need, and we can respond based simply on what our child brings to us, instead of adding in all of our concerns or fears.

It's hard to watch our child stumble, scrape a knee, or experience being left-out. It hits us hard and makes us want to intervene to, but over-reacting ends up leaving our children more vulnerable and often more unsure of themselves as they try to make sense of our over-reaction while in the midst of processing their own.

Our child is having their own experience.

They'll know they can make it through the situation, that you've got their back and they can trust you to bounce their ideas off.

Instead of passing on our fears, we can shift into trust by observing, following our child's lead, learning their plan, and getting comfortable with discomfort.

The payoff is well worth the risk.

For you, it's peace, enjoyment, more interesting days spent together, and a deeper more enduring relationship with your child, teenager, and grown adult.

For your child, it's autonomy, confidence, creativity, ability to assess risk and avoid hazards, and increased safety.

When we allow children to experience their world and their feelings, we send the message that we trust them in the world, and therefore they can trust themselves.

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