From a very young age children are learning to assess and manage risks. Children need to take risks so that they can learn about the world around them and how to be safe.
Babies try crawling, standing, walking and running. These all come with risks of falling over, bumping and hurting themselves. As they get older children see a tree stump and want to climb onto it and then jump off it.
As early years educators our role is not to eliminate risk but to assess and weigh up the balance between the risk and the benefit to children.
No one wants children to get hurt but bumps and scrapes are unavoidable, beneficial and all part of childhood. Children learn how to manage and react to risks from these bumps.
Children enjoy taking risks. It excites them and our role is to enable children to do this safely and without putting them in danger. We need to evaluate the risk but not just focus on ‘the worst thing that could happen’. We need to ask ourselves “what’s the best thing that could happen” and how can we let children do this safely, without taking away the risk, the problem solving, the confidence and team building and the excitement. We need to use positive language. Instead of saying “don’t do that” or “don’t climb any further”, try saying “show me how you can do that carefully” or what’s the best way to climb that”.Ask the children to tell you how they are going to do it, give them plenty of time to think how they are going to do it and keep a safe distance in case you are needed but not too close that the children don’t have the space to be free. It is our role to supervise safely but not ‘do’ it for the child.
Letting a child feel that you trust them in their decision making helps encourage their independence, life skills and self regulation. They will learn how high is too high, how fast
is too fast and how heavy is too heavy.
Risks must be age and ability appropriate as all children develop at their own pace and enjoy different things.
We can’t wrap children in cotton wool. Children will not learn how to manage risks if we do this. We need to find the middle ground that allows children to discover and experiment with new things, make their own mistakes and solve problems, all in a safe and fun way.
This will give the children a great chance and opportunity to learn and develop essential life skills that that will take into adulthood.