Should Children Take Risks?

Society in recent years has become very health and safety conscious. We have begun to wrap our children up in cotton wool in order to keep them safe. Is this the right thing to do or should we be letting them get out there and experience some risks and dangers? After all, we can’t wrap them in cotton wool forever!

Child walking on rocks

Last week, I had a call from the BBC radio Mark Forrest show. They were discussing this very subject and invited me to talk on the show that evening. I shocked myself by agreeing to talk on live radio! This was way out of my comfort zone and something I had never experienced before, but I think it’s always good to grab opportunities that pop up.

Should we protect our children from risks?

There are many dangers and risks in life, we cannot remove them all. Is it our job as a parent to protect our children from as many as possible, or is it our job to help guide our children into learning to look after themselves, teach them how to foresee danger and know their limitations? How will kids know something has potential to hurt them unless they are allowed to experience things as they are growing up?

I believe children need to be shown potential hazards and dangers and how to manage them, rather than removing them all together. Yes kids will get hurt along the way, hopefully just minor bumps and scrapes, but that’s all part of the learning curve of life. The more we shield them from dangers, the more at risk they are of accidents.

How do you let children take risks?

Let them start young, it’s a gradual process. I am not suggesting for one second you put a toddler on the top of a high climbing frame and let go. It’s about building on what your children do. When they are little let them climb small things, then as they get older those things get higher, until eventually they will probably be climbing trees and goodness knows what else. They then learn how to balance and hold on etc on the small things before they are let loose on the bigger stuff.

Taking small children to places like gymnastics or tumble tots is a good idea. They can learn how to climb and fall safely. Children need to practice their skills .

Additionally, try not to overreact to small incidents. When a small child falls over, it is easy to rush to their aid, sweep them up in your arms to comfort them. However, you may be doing them a disservice. Often kids react and cry, because of the parents reaction. It is not easy to stand back and watch, but occasionally this might be a good thing, wait to see the child’s reaction, before showing them yours.

Why are our children being wrapped up in cotton wool?

Some people believe there are not enough open green spaces for children to run around free. I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but there are definitely fewer places than there used to be with all the building that goes on. Children are not given as many opportunities these days to go and explore, particularly if you think of the incident not so long ago where teenagers were told they were not to play in the woods! Well if they can’t play there, then where can they play, learn and explore? No wonder kids are not allowed to take risks if the police are telling kids not to play in woods!

Also, due to the over zealous health and safety regulations, people are afraid of allowing children to be active, climbing, taking risks on playgrounds, for fear of getting sued!

However, there is a more recent thought, that we are becoming aware of the need to allow children to take risks. There is a school up North that actually has a swimming race every year in open (cold) water. This may be a dangerous thing to allow children to do, but in a controlled situation, I believe this is healthy and a good thing for kids to experience (as long as they are good enough swimmers obviously). We should be doing more of this sort of thing, without fear of being sued.

What do you think? Should we protect our children from risks or should we allow them some freedom?

See Also
Kids playing
Bring Back Childhood
Parent walking with child
Imperfect Parenting

11 thoughts on “Should Children Take Risks?”

  1. This is a good topic! Personally I think health and safety has gone too far!! Living here health and safety is perhaps too far the other way (I.e there is none haha) but it does mean that I can do stuff with Arthur without getting any judge-y looks from people.

    I think a parent knows what their child is capable of better than anyone else!

  2. Really interesting topic, and fantastic that you were asked to be on the radio! Go you!!

    It can be scary as a parent to let your child take risks but I do think it’s important. You cannot protect them from everything but you can teach them to try and be careful and if they don’t know what it feels like to get hurt, they cannot really understand why to try and avoid it.

  3. I totally agree that we should allow our kids a degree of freedom to take a few risks and to learn from them. I am lucky that the kids where I live all still play out in the street and climb trees etc.

    Within the boundaries that you set it is a great learning experience. I’ve never been one to scoop up my kids the moment they fall. I wait to see if their reaction is shock or genuine, when I will obviously comfort them.

    I see too many children on the playground who cannot manage risks and get upset at the slightest thing because they have never had any freedom to explore their surroundings and to learn from what they do.

  4. I’m with you on this one. I seem to have, for some reason, the kind of kids that naturally want to take risks every single day – they are not a cautious pair!

    So, I have had to allow risks, otherwise I can’t see that they’d ever learn, and they do learn (I admit, my daughter is better at this, my son seems hell-bent on taking more and more daily!), and I think I’d have gone mad, too.

    As you say, when they fall and it’s a minor thing, I smile reassuringly, and they get up and carry on, and whenever it’s a bigger thing, I am there to back them up or catch them if need be, but they like to try it alone.

    I think it’s great to be in a safety-conscious time, with real dangers reduced, but there it the sue culture and a leaning towards over-protectiveness that has gone too far.

    Everything in balance, I feel, and let common sense and instincts prevail sometimes.

  5. I encourage my kids to climb trees, paddle down streams and generally enjoy the countryside.

    However the big risk for me is traffic. I live on the edge of a town which has a lovely small ‘nature reserve’ about 20 mins walk away but it’s across a busy road. It’s supposed to be 30mph but the traffic goes much faster and for this reason I don’t let my kids walk to the reserve alone.

    It’s sad because it means I always have to accompany them, but when I was a kid (and lived nearby) I’d spend all day in the reserve with just my friends.

  6. I read a great article about how much children can learn from free play, including risk assessment team bonding and problem solving.

    It argued that we do so many organised activities with our children nowadays, rather than just letting them get outside and play. That said, I am not a big fan of parks.

    I always cringed when I took my children to one, seeing some of the dodgy manoeuvres that children inevitably do. And every summer someone always breaks their arm falling off the monkey bars!

  7. Interesting read. I’ve been thinking that since my second came along I’ve defo become a more relaxed parent. Which is something I never thought would happen.

    My 4yo is all about the risks. And I am that parent that if he falls over I don’t rush over. Tell him up you get.

    I do often get a few strange looks!!!

  8. I totally agree with you, kids should be allowed to take risks. I was talking to a friend the other day and neither of us could remember the last time we saw a child with scabby knees! I think it goes to show how much time children spend indoors these days rather than going outside and entertaining themselves.

  9. Some freedom would not hurt. But of course a parent should know when to let them go and when to hold back.

    Saying that I have an accident prone kid so even if I am letting him play I have to still be there just to be sure that he is safe on the obstacles that he is playing.

    I don’t know about the other places but in the 2 areas where I lived in my 4 years of stay in the UK, there are an abundance of play area and open spaces where my kid can go.

    You just need to have time to go with them and let them play.

  10. N is usually roaming around on the farm…and I dread to think what he’ll get up to in future when he’s following his older cousins around – some of whom are quite wild – but means they wander cross country across the farms to visit each other, driving dirt bikes around, hacking a dead pigeon with a penknife (don’t even ask, there was a school friend with nephew no.2 at the time, and the parent wasn’t impressed to hear what they’d been up to) and driving their banger car around a field – all before the age of 13!).

    I read last week, an article about an open area for children to explore, where no adults are allowed. There’s lots of ‘junk’, tyres, wood etc, they can build dens, fires, do whatever.

    The only adults in are a couple who check in there’s no injuries, no spreading fire etc.Sounds like a great idea…very Lord of the Flies-esque but a great way for kids in deprived areas where they don’t usually get let out of parents’ view, to make their own way.

  11. Lovely post, I’m kinda in the middle, some days I’m very easy going pushing him to try something new, stepping away but then I can be that over protective mummy too.

    We have just been involved in the National Trudt #50things project which is all about getting closer to nature. It has inspired us!

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