The phrase “Helicopter Parent” gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s used to describe parents who overprotect their children from risk or failure, whether it’s physical or emotional.
Most of us are not as extreme as “Helicopter Parents,” but we want to protect our children. Allowing our children to take risks can be challenging for us as well. It sometimes takes a conscious choice on our part to allow our children to take risks. This is how they learn self-confidence and mastery of many physical skills.
While we all understand that in order for kids to gain confidence and grow as individuals, learning to take risks is necessary, it can still be hard to know where the line is: “Where do I step in, and when do I back off?”
As our kiddos try new things, balancing the appropriate amount of risk-taking becomes even more challenging. Fortunately, there some strategies you can use to help you find a middle ground.
Life is full of risk—however, most of it is pretty mundane and largely goes unnoticed. We make decisions every day that involve some level of risk (“Do I buy broccoli instead of peas this week and risk that my child will spit it out in protest?”) With our children, it’s the same. Not every “risk” is obvious. Learning to ride a skateboard or climbing a tree both involve obvious, physical risk.
But then there’s the not-so-obvious risks: Letting them get a failing grade when they refuse to study for a test; allowing them to feel rejection or disappointment when they don’t make the softball team.
Allowing your child to take risks is an important part of their development. It helps your child learn to handle challenges. However, it’s not always clear which risks are best for your child.
Mild or Wild Child?
Some children are born ready for action, while others are more cautious. Most of us fall somewhere in between. Knowing where your child falls on the spectrum can help guide how you parent them.
- Risk-taker: These are children who enjoy heights, speed, and excitement.
- Risk-Averse: Some children need more encouragement when it comes to taking risks. Gentle guidance and lots of support are key for nudging your child into trying something out of their comfort zone.
Taking Reasonable Risks
Risk allows us to gain self-confidence and master skills. Children need daily opportunities to try things on their own and even make mistakes. Here are some points to consider:
- When we talk about risky play and children, we aren’t describing shop-lifting or smoking. We are looking at their day-to-day activities and learning environments, such as “rough and tumble play;” outdoor environments where there are potentials for danger (such as a fire pit, river, animals, etc.); the school environment, where our children put themselves at risk socially every day.
What are the benefits of taking the risk?
- Increase in self-confidence, assertiveness, or physical coordination and strength.
- Learning the difference between safe and potentially dangerous situations.
- Improved planning skills and decision-making.
- Improved safety awareness.
- Sense of accomplishment.
What are the potential consequences of the risk?
- Injury: scraped knees, broken limb, concussion.
- Emotional challenges, such as rejection, disappointment, or embarrassment.
Evaluate the situation: What is the worst possible thing that could occur if your child took that particular risk and what is the likelihood of it occurring? For example, “What is the worst case scenario of my daughter trying out for the school play?” Most likely, it’s that she will not get a part in the play and feel disappointed. However, from taking the risk, she not only challenged herself, but gained useful experience which will help her with future auditions.
We are driven by an instinct to protect ourselves and our children—it’s evolutionary. It’s also why we are always on the lookout for potential threats: questionable looking play structures, rusty nails, busy streets….
This isn’t to say that you should let your children roam free unsupervised. It’s more about taking a step back to evaluate where you can give your child opportunities to challenge themselves. Maybe it’s urging them to climb up one higher branch on a tree (or climb it at all), or allowing them to get a skateboard for their birthday (Don’t forget knee/elbow pads and a helmet!). Either way, healthy, reasonable risk taking is a necessary part of a child’s development both physically and emotionally, and with your guidance your child with gain confidence and master new skills!
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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