Let your child learn to take risks
When I started out at an internship about 10 years ago, minimising risks in childcare was an important topic.
One of my colleagues spent a lot of time filling out all sorts of elaborate risk assessment forms, categorising the toys, playground, garden equipment, and basically anything in the areas where the children were allowed to go or could possibly sneak into, making sure they would be safe.
Nowadays, we lean more towards a philosophy of managed risk-taking: children are allowed to try things out without us stopping them, but we do stay close in case something goes wrong.
For me, this transition is a challenge. I still lean towards a more careful, risk-averting approach, and I am learning to let that go. Being trained in first aid helps – as I have written before, a large part of taking care of children’s accidents is giving them time to manage themselves, only stepping in when the pain is too much for them to deal with it themselves.
This, in combination with friendly reminders from my colleagues, helps me to let go a bit more and give children a chance to discover their bodies’ abilities and the circumstances of their surroundings on their own. The reason this is so important is that when we take all risks away, a child never learns how to deal with them.
By introducing a world of challenges they need to figure out themselves, we are setting our children up for a more nourishing and rewarding life. They learn through taking risks how they can protect or help themselves, and experience a sense of accomplishment and pride when they solve their own problems.
We have two three-year-old boys at my nursery who love climbing and being active. The moment they come in in the morning, they want to expend bodily energy, which can be difficult indoors and when we need to watch other children, too. Their behaviour, if unchecked, can become downright disruptive to the group. Of course, this is not their problem and in fact does not even need to be a problem at all: all they need is for us, the grown-ups, to give them the opportunity to release their energy in a healthy way.
Sometimes I do this by challenging them to throw a soft ball up on a high shelf, which usually keeps one of them very happily occupied for half an hour, of by giving them a hammering toy (less noisy for us, energy-releasing for them).
But the other day I decided to let them play in our second room, which has a little playhouse with a slide, and allowed them to climb, crawl, stomp and growl wherever they wanted. They climbed into the window sill by scaling up one of the beds, tried to climb over the banister on the playhouse, and realised they couldn’t reach. To be able to get higher up, they used a tricycle nearby. This went well for a while, even though I was internally terrified because it didn’t provide a very stable base, but then the kids realised the instability was a problem, so they moved a large box next to the tricycle and used that to climb over the banister.
It all sounds really logical but to me, coming from a risk-minimising school of thought, it was a real eye-opener and the best real-world example I’ve seen of the effects of managed risk-taking. I decided to trust the boys, let them experiment, stayed close, and they solved their own problems without any interfering. They got to release their energy, learn from doing, feel pride in their own problem solving skills, and I got to learn a valuable lesson in trust and letting go.
Merel Miedema is an early childhood educator in Amsterdam, where she works at one of the city’s oldest independent and green crèches.