Why Risky Play should be here to stay
Trigger warning: anxiety
I am still overwhelmed by responses to our Risky Play Series.
Since then I’ve come across some discussions about taking the word “risk” out of the term. Reframing it to other terms like “tricky play” or just normalising it as “play”.
I had a pretty strong internal response to that personally. "No, what!?!". Let me explain.
I do understand the sentiment – “don’t put caregivers off by using scary words” and perhaps to try to avoid any perception that “risky” play can cause harm. So, can we just call it play?
Personally, I don’t think it helps. To fully understand and embrace something we need to know it and own it.
Personally; I have anxiety and with both my children (particularly in the early days) I really struggled with all the “what-ifs”. When (if!) I ever left my children in the care of others I would mentally run through all the possible scenarios of things that might happen. At playgrounds I immediately envisaged falls from heights.
I rushed through my tasks and rushed home. I was on edge all of the time.
Reading about and accepting risky play has given me so much freedom from this anxiety. It has helped me:
- Find ways to scaffold risky play opportunities that I’m comfortable with (i.e. allowing access to low heights initially)
- The ability to think about and assess risk and the likelihood of harm logically
- To appreciate the enormous benefits my children receive from exposure to appropriate risks (see our Risky Play series)
- To understand that free gross motor movement usually means children will only do as much as they are capable of
Risky play isn’t just for our kids (it probably is intended to be) but for me it has been so much more. It has enabled me to place trust in my children’s capabilities and take a step back in many scenarios, whether climbing a tree or carrying a plate down a set of stairs.
I needed to be introduced to it - to understand why complete protection and removing of all risks wasn’t helpful. Calling it “tricky play” or wrapping it up and losing it in the term “play” was never going to give me that and it certainly wasn’t going to give me the tools and perspective that a blunt and honest discussion of risky play has given me.
If the messages and emails I receive in response to my “Our Story” are anything to go by the honest discussion about facing the root of our fears as caregivers, with risky play as a key tool, has been for many others too.
Sure, not everyone is me, not all of us suffer from that type of anxiety or worry. But, the trend is clear. We take our kids to soft play centres so they can play and we can relax. We hover nervously by the playground. Risk is absent from so many of our children’s play opportunities.
The use of the term ‘risky play’ is a direct response to the trend of de-risking play and the consequences this has had on our children’s capabilities, and ultimately their long-term well-being. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and disguise risky play as something more palatable (“tricky” play) or assume it’s the norm (just “play”) before it has truly established its place.
Risk is the likelihood of a hazard causing injury, harm or damage. It doesn’t mean endangering our children but it does mean that we are okay with them tripping or getting a splinter or falling from a low height. It’s peeling back the layers of bubble wrap.
I’m not encouraging my children to do anything outside of their comfort, and there are still boundaries. I am responsible for scanning for hazards and deciding when a certain type of play is okay or not. But I am giving them more latitude to explore.
Is climbing a tree tricky? Absolutely, but so is tying your shoelaces. Let’s not confuse the two and diminish the value of risk.