You cannot learn to be safe by avoiding risks. Risks provide an avenue for practicing skills involved in making wise choices.” – Dan Hodgins, Boys: Changing the Classroom, Not the Child
When it comes to letting my kids take risks outdoors, I really struggle. As far as parenting skills go, this isn’t the strongest quality I could have. I like to play it safe. And I want my kids to be safe, too. Tell me you can relate.
Risk taking has been on my mind a lot lately. It all started earlier this month when I read about a Maryland couple that got into trouble with Child Protective Services (CPS) because they let their 10 and 6 year old children walk home alone from a park. Someone spotted the kids walking without adult supervision and called the police, who in turn picked up the kids, brought them home and reported the case to CPS for further investigation.
Then a fellow blogger asked if I’d been watching “World’s Worst Mom” – a television show featuring free-range parenting guru Lenore Skenazy handing out advice to help over-protective “helicopter” parents lighten up. (You can read Michele’s thoughts on this idea in last week’s newsletter.)
I don’t consider myself over-protective, especially when we’re outdoors. I let my kids climb up the slide at the playground and jump off the top of the climbing wall. They throw rocks into rivers, climb trees and touch stuff they probably shouldn’t when we’re out in nature. But all of this is done in my presence. To keep them in check so nothing too crazy happens.
Ask me if I let my 10 year old walk home alone from school (a distance of only 3 short blocks) and I’d have to admit that I don’t.
This is spite of the fact that by the time I was 8, I was riding my bike around my neighborhood all by myself. During summers, I left home in the morning and came back for dinner. I certainly had lots more freedom than my boys do today. I’m guessing your experience is pretty similar.
Like all of us, I want to raise well-adjusted, responsible, independent kids. That means learning to let them take risks. Even mess up now and again. Maybe even get hurt.
So how does a self-proclaimed risk-averse parent like me empower her kids for a strong, self-reliant future? Baby steps.
The Washington Post recently shared some simple ways to let a little more risk into your child’s day for newbies like me. I have a few more ideas I’d like to add that apply to school-age kids such as mine:
- Teach skills to foster independence. Your child might not be ready to navigate his way around your neighborhood solo at the moment. But what can you do today to help him move toward doing so?
- When it comes to unsupervised activities, start small. Although I cringe at the idea of my 10 year old walking home alone from school, I am OK with him walking home with a friend. (And I don’t even make him call me when he gets there.) I’m all right with my 6 year old climbing the tree in our backyard while I’m out of view inside the house. In fact, when the boys play in the backyard these days, they are almost always unsupervised.
- Don’t rely on technology. My kids do not have cell phones to use “in case of emergency.” Instead, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves first. In elementary school, that means knowing where to go (the school office) and who to talk to (a teacher, office staff) if there’s a problem. Sure, a cell phone makes getting in touch easier, but these basic thinking skills must come first.
- Trust your kid’s instincts. If they’re willing to give something a try, let them. My kids seem to know their own limits better than I do.
- Learn from mistakes. When you take risks, things might not always go as planned. Like the time The Little Explorer got stitches after taking a rock to the forehead while playing along the river in Yosemite. He learned a tough lesson that day about keeping safe distances while throwing rocks. But guess what? He still throws rocks along that river.