Why it's important to let your kids fall

Uncategorized Jan 29, 2021

Many parents, including me, don’t want to put their kids in a situation where they might be hurt.  

Yet the goal of getting your newborn to adulthood isn’t just for them to survive, it’s for them to thrive. 

Part of this is helping your child handle risk confidently.

This is why you need to let your children fall.  

This doesn’t come easily for me. I’ve had to work hard on it.

I’ll never forget a time when my brother’s kids were standing on a wall that looked terrifyingly high. My brother noticed I was worried and said:

 “When I feel nervous I ask myself, could this kill them? If it can’t kill them I let them take the risk. If they hurt themselves they have also learnt a lesson and probably won’t do it again.”....

My brother was onto something because research from Dr Peter Gray, an evolutionary biologist, who has studied play deeply shows that when allowed to play freely without adult supervision children instinctively take themselves to the edge of their own fear and become a little braver.

Research from the book No Fear by Tim Gill has also found there are actually more injuries in our safe, manufactured playgrounds than in the older more dangerous ones. Go figure! 

The benefits of risky play

Risky play is crucial to a child's development so it's important that teachers and parents don't prevent children from engaging in risky experiences and activities. Some of the key life-skill benefits to be gained from risky play include:

  • Building resilience and persistence
  • Balance and coordination - development of motor skills
  • Awareness of the capabilities and limits of their own bodies
  • The ability to assess and make judgement without risk
  • Handling of tools safely and with purpose
  • Understanding consequence to action
  • Confidence and independence
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity and inventiveness
  • Curiosity and wonder
  • Problem solving

On the flip side, children who don't engage in risky play are more likely to be clumsy, less physically fit, have little control over motor skills, feel uncomfortable in their own body, have poor balance, a fear of rapid movement and will be less able to manage risk.

When parents hover or prevent kids completely from making risky choices, kids don't get the chance to learn about consequences. Nothing seems scarier to me than a teen behind the wheel of a car that hasn’t learned natural consequences growing up, or a teen afraid to try anything new for fear of falling or failing.

Over the years of parenting my own boys, I’ve learnt to overcome  the urge to say “be careful” or “watch out”. It boils down to trying to prevent my brain from going into flight or fight by helping it to regulate.

When I am in flight or fight mode, my brain isn’t able to make good decisions. I’m not able assess the difference between a little risk (my toddler might fall and then might cry) and a huge risk (my toddler might get eaten by enormous lion and may die).

In a nutshell by preventing our kids from taking risks, we actually risk them never growing to be independent, brave, capable and resilient. For me this is the real risk.

My checklist to avoid helicopter parenting is

 

1. Identify if you are a cool, calm and collected parent, or a worrier.

If you have a tendency to worry you need to keep this in mind when assessing risk. Worry would be especially prevalent when you enter the beach, park, pool or play centre. IN these settings you will need to work harder not to intervene.

2. See the potential risk, take a big breath and regulate.

Ask yourself, what kind of a risk is this? A bump on the knee or a trip to hospital? If it is the former try not to intervene.

3. Be a commentator, not an adjudicator

Use guiding words can help your child assess risks.

Instead of “Careful or you’ll fall” or “Get out of the tree, you might fall. ”

try “Wow, you’ve managed to climb really high there, do you feel safe?” or “Look at you in the tree. Hang on tight and test the branch with your foot before you step on it”. 

Being a commentator allows your child to start assessing their choices for themselves. This is especially important when parenting a teenager. 

4. Be cool when they fall. Be there for connection.

We so often panic when our kids actually do fall. We jump to “I told you so” far too easily because our brains are in fight or flight mode. If we can stay regulated and aim for a simple commentary of what happened while offering of soothing, our kids are more likely to learn from their mistakes.

For example if your child does fall off that stool you mentioned 10,078 times looks dangerous you might say… “you fell down. Ouch, it looks like that hurt, are you ok?” And that’s the cue for comfort. You don’t say “You should have listened to me. I told you you’d hurt yourself.”

Our kids have the need to both be supported in their exploration, and supported when they need comfort, boundaries and support. Both of these things matter in raising a secure, resilient human. When we are hovering and guiding our kids away from risk we need to think about who we are protecting.

Are you cool, calm and collected or a worrier? 

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