Risk, fear and excitement: why kids NEED it

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Mariana Brussoni, an injury prevention researcher and developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia is concerned we are keeping our kids too safe. Children require the mental and physical space to figure out appropriate risk levels for themselves, writes Dr. Brussoni in an article titled Why kids need risk, fear and excitement in play. It is important to balance keeping kids safe, with providing them with the opportunity to explore, engage in risky play, and develop problem solving skills in play. It is difficult for children to develop the skills required to make independent decisions about risk in play if decisions are made by parents or guardians.

The article mentions that preventing our kids from exploring uncertainty could have unintended negative consequences such as increased sedentary behaviour, anxiety and phobias.

How will children learn about themselves and how the world works if an adult is constantly telling them what to do and how to do it? – Dr. Brussoni

Despite recognizing the importance of risky play, parents express concern and worry about the possibility of injury. Brussoni writes “there has never been a safe time to be a child in Canada”. Interestingly, children are more likely to need medical attention for an injury from organized sports than play.

Observing children engaging in risky outdoor play opens our eyes to the inherent capability of children, from a young age. Through experimentation, decision making, and appropriate risk taking, children learn about their mental and physical abilities and develop problem solving skills. It is therefore important to limit barriers, such as over protection, that could interfere with a child’s ability to explore and take healthy risks.

Mariana Brussoni suggests parents choose appropriate levels of supervision for children, depending on their developmental stage. For example, older children might be allowed to explore the neighborhood with friends, with previous parental guidance on navigating traffic.

Read the entire article here to learn more about how injury prevention professionals are now focusing on how to keep kids as safe as necessary, instead of as safe as possible.