Risk Taking for Preschoolers

What do we know about risk taking for preschoolers?

This is what we know…risk taking and risk assessment is a vital role in a person’s growth and development in life.  

For an adult, it might look like taking on a physical challenge of stepping up to a barbell to try and lift a heavier weight, asking someone out on a date, giving a speech to a large crowd, or sharing a viewpoint that may not be popular.

For a preschooler, it may look like climbing a tree. The child senses what it feels like to hold on to a branch with their hands as they feel around to place their foot and decipher which branch is sturdy enough to support their body.  Putting hands into a sensory table to experience an unknown sensation and determine if that’s a feeling they like or dislike, asking a classmate to sit next to them at lunch, offering an idea at a circle time in front of the large group, attempting to write one’s name, or using a saw at the workbench are other ways a preschooler may experience risk taking.  

More recently, our society has become more risk averse. Parents, teachers, caregivers fear children will be hurt or uncomfortable.  Society has even labeled some of us as “helicopter parents”.  By being risk averse, we miss that “sweet spot of where the magic happens.”  We miss the opportunity for growth and we deprive kids of risk assessment.  This risk assessment helps them match their skills with the demands of the environment.  If children do not have the practice of risk assessing, they will look to others to decide what’s safe (peers and adults).  Children need to become competent in their skills with the opportunity to take age appropriate risks. Taking a risk or a chance means that they might make a mistake.  The more opportunities for risk and mistakes gives children confidence about taking chances and helps them rebound and learn flexibility when things don’t work out exactly the first time. Hazards are different from risks and require a watchful eye and feedback from caregivers. Hazards are invisible risks that children can’t see like a broken tricycle or pieces of glass shards on a playground. It’s our job as adults to assess for hazards.  

As parents, educators, and society how can we support our preschoolers in taking risks?  We can stop saying “be careful”.  \”Be careful\” is not a useful saying as it gives no information. Giving specific feedback is more useful.  We can provide kids with opportunities in a safe space to explore risks by looking for hazards and staying close by.  By remaining calm, we can show the kids that we trust their ability to problem solve and risk assess.  If children succeed, they gain the confidence in mastery of their task. If they make a mistake, they gain information about what didn’t work and they gain the ability to try it again a different way.  
Now is the time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  It will led us to growth: personal, societal, and family.

…Amy Rudawsky, Co-Director