Keeping kids safe is the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association and the Voice of Play’s utmost priority, but research shows that allowing children to take a few risks during their playtime is very beneficial to their growth. In fact, Psychology Today lists six categories of risky play that are strangely attractive to children.
These categories include: great heights, rapid speeds, dangerous tools, dangerous elements, rough and tumble play and getting lost. Think back on your own childhood — did you enjoy climbing trees or sledding down the biggest hill in your neighborhood? How about pretending you were deep in the forest with no way out or chasing each other with toy swords? Those methods of play match with at least one of the six categories. These are natural urges everyone faces while growing up, and your children are no different.
So what makes these risks so appealing? Let’s consider an example. Playground equipment like climbers and overhead hanging apparatuses present kids with physical challenges, which ultimately may be risks. When kids take that risk and overcome the challenge, they develop a sense of accomplishment that leads to higher self-esteem. That elevated self-esteem leads to trying additional challenges, and possibly encouraging others to join in. Not only is your child meeting new friends, but he is building confidence in his abilities, one risk at a time.
Are all risks beneficial? No, there are certainly limits, but Peter Gray, Ph.D., author of Freedom to Learn, tells us that “…[children] are also very good at knowing their own capacities and avoiding risks they are not ready to take, either physically or emotionally” (Psychology Today). It’s not easy to watch your child take a risk now and then, but seeing the triumph on his face after learning something new will be well worth that moment of concern.