I know I’m not the only parent at the park following her kid from structure to structure crying out “be careful” or “don’t run up the slide”. Where are my other protective parents at?
It turns out that we need to resist our urges to yell stop, and at least sometimes refrain from the lessons about what could happen.
Risky Play As Healthy Play?
It might seem counterintuitive but engaging in risky behaviour is good for our children’s emotional, social, and physical health. A review of play research by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that hyperparenting along with boring playgrounds has led to a decrease in rough-and-tumble play and an increase in sedentary children.
The journal refers to risky play as ” play at height, speed, near dangerous elements (e.g., water, fire), with dangerous tools, rough and tumble play, and where there is the potential for disappearing or getting lost”.¹ These types of activities are the kind my two boys are keen to try but like most mothers, I’m terrified of the injury potential for my children. My fear stems from a mama bear protectiveness since the article mentions that most childhood injuries are minor and are a natural part of being physically active.
Injury-prevention expert, Mariana Brussoni, notes that risky behaviour helps children develop negotiation skills, and awareness of their personal boundaries that wouldn’t otherwise occur with parental guidance.²
Allowing Free-Range Experiences
The “busy” everyday expectations of being a family and working, often mean children’s opportunities for risky outdoor play are being diminished. Children move from the structured school day to structured afterschool enrichment activities.
When asked, about their favourite play memories children referred to being on a playground or in a supervised activity compared to their parents who remember free-experiences like riding their bikes in the neighbourhood, or playing hide-and-seek.³ I remember going to the trailer park each summer for most of my early childhood. All the kids would gather for hide-and-seek in the dusky field. The game ended when the streetlights came on and everyone scattered.
Encouraging outdoor play to explore natural materials is one way to provide healthy opportunities for risk-taking.
Last weekend, my heart dropped when John ran up the path, and disappeared into the trees with a boy he had met about ten minutes prior. They were taking the “long way” back to the cottage from the lake. I bit my tongue, took a deep breath, and waited for him to arrive. Later that night he confessed to me that his friend had been a little scared, but they held hands and figured out which way to go by listening to the adults talking.
It’s going to be a long summer, but this is a challenge I’m willing to take on. Will you join me?