Risk taking is beneficial for kids. The experts (well, at the very least, Jim Taylor, Ph. D. over at Psychology Today) find it is good for confidence, assertiveness, academic and physical pursuits, and competitiveness. As parents, we want our children to have as many advantages as possible. So how can we encourage them?
Risk taking is different for each child. Each has a different comfort zone. The goal is to get them out of that comfort zone without bullying them to be someone they aren’t. Their comfort zone may be physical, social, or academic. It is fairly easy for a parent who is paying attention to identify that. It is important to keep that on your radar....get them out of that comfort zone without bullying them to be someone they aren't. Click To Tweet
Once identified, it is time to encourage.
Determine what is safe
This is most appropriate for physical pursuits. We have to determine if what they want to do is actually safe. We are, after all, responsible to get them to adulthood one piece. It is important to be careful that we don’t put our fears on them so that we actually make them fearful, though.
The best way to deal with this to first protect them. If your daughter wants to ride her bike on ramps and do tricks on that BMX then make sure she has a helmet and pads. Next, do it in baby steps and participate. If you help her build a sturdy ramp that starts out at only 3”, let her master it and then graduate to 6”, you will both feel more confident.
It also never hurts to have a low copay for the ER for your little dare devil. Just in case.
If you don’t know about something, research it. Help your child learn. Whether it is how to build a fire, how to use a power tool, or use a kitchen knife, the more you and your child know the more prepared and confident you will both be with the risk taking.
You don’t know what you don’t know so you need to experience different things. I believe the easiest way to start this is at the dinner table. My philosophy was that you eat what everyone else is having and you have to eat at least a tablespoon of everything being served. Not only do you not foster picky eating but they get in the habit of trying new things continually.
Let them try new activities in many different areas. Sports. Art. Music. Academics. See what it is that grabs their interest. Let them try new things at home. More often than not this means a mess. This is an excellent opportunity to also teach them to clean up their messes.
This could mean you will be an unwitting guinea pig. I distinctly remember having to taste a new concoction invented by my own little angels…Fruit Milk. Milk filled with pieces of apple, pears, and grapes (think kiddie sangria). I took a few swigs. I tried not to screw up my face too much. After they also tasted it we came to the consensus that it needed to go back to the drawing board. While not a winner, they tried something new.
I applauded that effort on the fruit milk (despite the aftertaste). This is important because if they don’t learn to take risks on the little things, they won’t ever take a risk on the important things. Applauding the effort also lets them know that it is ok to fail. They will know that Mom and Dad have their back.
Deal with failure and disappointment
When your children fail let them fail. Do not make excuses for it. You can empathize- “That really stinks!”- and, applaud the effort- “ I’m sure next time it will be better”. They need to know not every risk taken is a win but that it’s ok to get up and try again.
Encourage problem solving
If your child encounters a problem simply ask them if they have a solution. They may or may not but continue to ask questions to get them to find a solution and then help them to see any pitfalls or consequences that might come with that. This teaches them to think things through and value their own cognitive abilities. It also shows them that you find them smart enough to solve their own problems and they will repeat this when faced with any sort of risk.
Be creative and personal
Relate to your children at their level and use some creativity to help their understanding. When my oldest daughter was in second grade she loved the movie, The Wizard of Oz. She was challenged with participating in class. I made her a badge of courage, just like the cowardly lion. She hung it in her room. It didn’t ‘cure’ anything overnight but it gave her a little bolster from time to time. Try to find what works for them.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect but it will certainly show them that improvement comes with patience. It may also take a lot of the fear out. If it is a physical activity, they can keep trying to improve what they are already doing. If it is social situations, you can role play with them so there is a higher level of confidence when they engage. If it is an adversity to change, start small and get bigger.
Be an example
Are you afraid of everything? Are you passing your fear on to your children? Are you getting out of your comfort zone? Actions speak louder than words.
What do you do to encourage children to take risks?