Risky play activities are movement experiences that are usually fun, exhilarating, and evoke a sense of urgency. This can be climbing up high in a tree, standing on top of the monkey bars, jumping from couch to couch in the living room, wrestling with a sibling or friend, or riding a bike at top speeds down a hill. The name says it all and there is a potential risk to your child’s safety during this type of play. However, risky play is great for your child's development. Keep reading to learn ways you can support your child during risky play and ease some of the anxiety that comes with it.
Benefits of Risky Play
Risky play is an opportunity for your child to build new skills and learn new things about themselves. As your child challenges themselves physically, they are building their self-confidence, learning what they are capable of, and testing gross motor skills such as balance and coordination. Your child is learning to think critically and creatively as they figure out their next steps while discovering what their boundaries are and how to recognize and cope with feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear. Some other benefits of risky play are that these experiences can be fun, exciting, and can be good for your child’s mental health. Plus they provide opportunities for teamwork and social interaction with other children! Without ever having opportunities to take risks, your child could become fearful of all risks, or the opposite and potentially start seeking adrenaline-inducing experiences to the extreme.
How Can I Support My Child During Risky Play?
Has your child ever climbed up something tall in the park and you yelled out “Be careful!" Don’t worry, we’ve all done it. But did you know that telling your child to be careful tells them there is something to fear? Even if your child has confidence in their abilities and has no fear when climbing that ladder, yelling out “Be careful” can push your child to withdraw from the activity and fear it. So, what can you do to ensure your child’s safety?
Remember the three P’s!
Step 1 is proximity. When your child is trying a new risky activity, make sure your body is close by. This can help your child feel safe to try new things and can also help ease your anxiety since you are closer by if something goes wrong.
Step 2 is planning. Instead of yelling out “Be careful,” ask your child what their plan is. “What is your next step?” or “What are you going to do if you get stuck?” By asking these questions, you are providing your child with the opportunity to think out loud and problem-solve with you. They may not know the next step, so maybe you can offer some suggestions. If they feel your support and can come up with a plan to stay safe, this will build their confidence and reduce both you and your child's stress.
Step 3 is praise. As your child navigates a physical challenge, encouragement can help support their success. Saying things like “One more step!” “You’re almost there!” and “You’re so strong!” will help instill confidence throughout their entire journey. Once your child has made it to the top or completed their activity, you can say things like “You did it!” or “Wow, you did it all by yourself!” “You are so brave!” The more confidence your child builds in their abilities, the more successful their next adventures will be!
Easing Your Anxiety
Easing your anxiety when your child is trying something new and risky can be easier said than done. Just know, you are not alone. It is not easy to think about, let alone watch our children risk their safety. However, the benefits that come with this kind of play are immense, so here are some ways to check in with yourself before you think about intervening in your child’s play:
1. Ask yourself, “Is my child scared? Or am I scared?” Usually, the answer will be that your child is perfectly happy with what they are doing, and you are the one thinking of all of the ways they can hurt themselves.
2. Is the environment safe and controlled? Check-in with your surroundings. Is there a road nearby? Are you close to a body of water? Are there lots of people around? Do you have a phone with you in case of an emergency? These are some questions you can ask yourself when you feel your anxiety heighten. Usually, the answer will help you see that your child is playing in a safe environment and can reassure you. Simple, but effective.
3. Use the three P’s: proximity, planning, and praise. Stay close to your child, offer a helping hand, stand behind them if they are climbing, and support them to come up with a plan for their next steps. Not only will this help your child feel confident to complete their task, but it can support you too. Hearing that your child knows what they are doing and that they feel safe can help reduce anxiety.
Remember, you are not alone. Feeling stressed during these activities is not uncommon, it's actually very normal. Hopefully, knowing the benefits of risky play combined with some anxiety-reducing tips can help support you through it, and feel more confident for the next time your little one wants to challenge themselves – because with your support they will want to go higher, faster, and longer. Your child's got it... and so do you!