The Importance of Risk: Raising Fearless Children

If you know nothing else of me from this blog journey, you know I’m a mom of boys. Two boys who love to climb, jump, and swing from anything above eye level. And I’m ok with that.

I think that when a child is young there is a need for risk. Now I don’t mean jumping out of a plan without a parachute risk. But maybe jumping off a knee high rock wall with holding their hands risk. Climbing up a tree risk. And even eating dirt risk.

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I figured out early on with Bear that he’s a climber. At 15-16 months I couldn’t leave the room without coming back to find him on the table. I tried everything to change the habit. He was going to climb no matter what I did. We lived with chairs ON our table for weeks. We still can’t keep him from climbing on furniture. But eventually I found the best thing I could do was teach him to climb down, without me helping him.

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But here’s the thing. We’re built to move. Seriously that’s why we have joints. I studied this so I know it’s true. Somewhere along the history of parenting we forgot what it was to raise an active child. Doctors seem to think “hyper” kids need medication first and understanding later. I know there are case where kids have huge improvements thanks to breakthroughs in medication. But I also feel that maybe we have it a little backwards. Maybe we should try bring recess, art and shop back into schools then look at medication.

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It feels like now a days parents are looked down upon for letting their kids act like kids. I remember taking Bear to a music class for toddlers when he was almost 2. I tried so hard to keep him in the circle. I tried so hard to make him march in line with the other kids. I tried so hard not to cry as we left because my kid was the one who didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. I remember being thankful for the email after from a mom saying it was ok. I remember thinking back to this moment and realizing Bear would never be the kid who did what everyone else was doing. And I’m proud of that.

He’s my “crazy man” as he puts it. He want to see the world with his own eyes. And that means climbing up things and testing those limits. It’s part of our development as humans. If they don’t understand risk, how can we expect them to understand danger? For me it means I need to be ok with letting him test those limits. And yes it means letting him use his scooter even if we can’t find his helmet.

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If you see us out at the playground, you will see me chasing Little Bear and pulling him off fences and letting him go down slides on his own. You will not see me standing next to Big Bear as he tries to go down the fireman pole on his own. You will hear me saying word of encouragement to both of them. Knowing full well Little Bear will do whatever Big Bear does.

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It comes down to this. With no risk, there is no reward. I want my children to feel the true feeling of victory. I want them to know they earned the right to say “I can.” I do not want my children to get participation trophies. I would rather a shelf full of 3rd place medals for my children. I’m ok with ripped jeans and cut knees if it mean a lesson was learned or an adventure was had. I will let my kids use knives so they know how to use knives. And yes I’m ok with breaking the rules of the playground if they keep safety of others in mind. Up the slide is ok if there’s no one else on it. Playing with sticks is fine if they know to mind other kids. Throwing rocks into an empty field does no harm.

I know the urge to protect your child is huge. I can not tell you how many times I clench my jaw waiting for a cry and tears. But after a few dozen boxes of band aids, I realized something. They respond how we respond. Here a super handy tip: breathe! Teach your child to take deep breathes. Bear has a great habit of stopping and assessing the situation before he reacts. He looks at me to see if I’m already on the phone with 911. If I’m not, he gets back up and goes back to what he was doing. This in no way does not mean I haven’t already dialed 91 and am just waiting. But I would never stop him for taking that risk. I will allow him to explore his world his way. I will let him play in the woods. I will let him know I am near enough to help. And I will let him know I am proud of his trails and errors.

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Lead by example. Take risk in your life. Live so your child may see what it is to be alive.

Read more like this:
Yes, I’m THAT mom. 
The Secret Bed: How we got our kid to stop sleeping in our bed (most of the time)
How I learned our emergency plan works.

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