Especially for Parents: Risks Worth Taking

by Alli Zomer

This summer our family had the amazing opportunity to travel to Denver and reconnect with dear friends. It involved a long road trip, some roadside rest stops, and lots of audiobooks. Luckily, the drive was easier than we feared, and the end result was completely worth it.

Our friends have children about the same age as ours, so it is always fun to reunite. Like our family, our friends love the outdoors. They take full advantage of their Colorado surroundings and spend time hiking, camping and exploring. This trip I noticed something particular about their kids: they have become expert climbers! At the park, in the yard, along the parkway…every time I looked, they were scrambling up a trunk or swinging off a branch. It was amazing! And yet, there were moments when I felt myself holding my breath…were they going too high? What would happen if they slipped? And, can my kids do that?

Watching them made me recall my (much!) younger days when my sister and I would climb the neighbor’s tree. We loved the challenge of trying to reach that first branch, hoisting ourselves up and ascending into the canopy where we could see the neighborhood from a new vantage point and make up some tall tale to go along with our tree top adventure. Then, one day, we went out to find that our neighbors had cut the lowest branches so that we couldn’t reach the tree anymore. Liability, risk, danger: that was what the adults worried about, so our topiary adventures were over.

Of course adults worry about risk, for it is our job to keep our children safe as they grow. But at times, our obsession with safety could actually be causing our kids a different, more invisible type of harm. Risk is crucial for children to develop confidence, resilience and trust. It is only through taking appropriate risks that children build new skills, learn to work through failure, and develop resilience to try again. When we arrived in Colorado, my kids were a little tentative to follow their friends into the treetops, but by the end of our week there I saw them pushing themselves a little bit higher, and saw their smiles grow wider each time they conquered a new branch. It was a risk definitely worth taking.

For more, read this NAEYC article on risk and play: