The Risks of Banning Risky Play
A safety organisation in the Netherlands is encouraging kids to play with penknives. Which at first glance sounds like the direct opposite of their misson.
But the researchers at VeiligheidNL argue that over-protecting children - preventing them from experimenting and taking risks - is damaging in itself.
It leads to children not developing a sense of independence and resilience, and it means they become risk-incompetent: they can’t judge for themselves whether something is too dangerous to attempt.
Of course, acceptable boundaries and safety around play is something every parent, guardian or carer must judge for themselves.
In the UK it is an offence to leave a child unsupervised “in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health”. And every child is different: one four year old may be safe with light supervision around fire while another needs an adult glued to him.
However, the researchers suggest that allowing children greater freedom and offering gentle support rather than blanket instruction to “be careful” can build children’s confidence, independence and self-esteem. It can also strengthen the bond between you and your child, as you demonstrate your trust in them.
Here are six aspects risky play. How many of these feature in your child’s life? And where do you cross the line from feeling cautiously comfortable to saying no?
Playing at height
Climbing trees or going out of reach on a climbing frame fall into this category. Many children find being high up exhilarating and liberating.
Riding bikes or scooters, swinging, rushing down a slide, rolling down a hill are all examples. All these can bring a sense of exhilaration and the feeling of being almost out of control.
Children love the responsibility of playing with knives, hammers, garden equipment etc. Often it’s about knowing these are ‘real world’ activities, not just toys, as well as the excitement that comes from knowing it’s possible to get hurt.
Playing with elements
Whether it’s the magnetic draw of fire or water, these powerful and potentially dangerous elements hold a thrill for many children.
Wrestling, rough and tumble and chasing are activities that many children are drawn to – they are testing their sense of vulnerability and their ability to get out of playfully difficult situations.
Hide and seek is a timeless children’s game. Younger children often test themselves by going further away from their carers, while older ones increase the thrill of unfamiliar settings by imagining spooky situations (“Did you see that bear through the trees?!”)
We’d love to know what you think! Are your children already mastering their own sense of danger? Are there ways you’d allow more playful peril into your children’s lives? Or is it too great a risk?