by Kylen Glassmann
Do you remember the last time you took a risk and succeeded? Or maybe you even took a risk and failed, but learned something from the experience? Risk-taking is something you hear a lot about in early childhood; teachers and parents are encouraged to foster a safe environment in which children feel comfortable trying new things, making mistakes, and taking risks. It may seem counterintuitive – we want children to make good choices and be safe, so why encourage risk-taking? It’s simple, really: children need to learn how to make safe and appropriate choices. How else will they learn these skills without testing boundaries and pushing their limits? Even as adults we are faced with difficult situations and it is important to learn to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the ability to learn from each other, gain insight from new experiences, and evolve.
So, what does this look like for children and how do you we encourage risk-taking safely? Think back to your childhood. When do you remember taking risks and being brave? I remember countless summer days that were spent at my local rec center with a huge pool and an infamous high-dive. It took me nearly an entire summer to feel brave enough to jump off the high-dive! However, my friends were encouraging me, and I knew I was safe. My parents were nearby and there was a life guard to help, just in case. And boy do I remember that feeling of jumping off for the first time; I felt like I could take on the world! Little did I know I was teaching myself that I am brave and can do hard things.
For our toddlers and preschoolers, risk-taking looks a bit different. Take one afternoon playing out in the Boulders, for example. While climbing a favorite fallen tree, one preschooler took a giant leap off the highest part of the tree. Others looked on with admiration and interest. “I want to jump off,” said another child. “Try!” said the first child. This blossomed into 20 minutes of safe and appropriate risk-taking. Several children took turns climbing and jumping off. Some children jumped from smaller heights that were more comfortable to them. Another child was motivated to make the leap off the top, but first he sat there for about 10 to 15 minutes, contemplating the jump. He stood up eyeing the distance and moved around to different spots, but always returned to the highest point. You could see the moments where he nearly went for it, but stopped himself. Finally, he jumped and succeeded! “I did it and now my body wants to jump 100 times!” The smile on his face was infectious! As their teacher, of course I was worried someone might fall and scrape their knee or land too hard, but how I could intervene and take away this learning experience? I didn’t need to say a thing because the other children were there with encouragement, “You can do it!” Instead, I chose to sit back and let them do their thing; they knew I was there if they needed help.
Long story short, encourage your children to try new things! Take them outside, let them climb trees, jump off of playground walls, and let them struggle! We want to foster pathways in the brain that build confidence, and it can be as simple as creating a safe space for children to try hard things. Nothing is as powerful as a child accomplishing something on their own. It is challenging to sit back and let this magic happen without intervening, but remember the phrase, “Would you rather your child have a broken bone, or a broken spirit?” We don’t want broken bones, but wouldn’t you rather your child try something difficult so that when they succeed, they can own their accomplishment and know deep down, “I am brave, I am strong, I am confident!”