Risk taking begins at birth. The unborn child takes a risk, driven by instinct, when they push to exit the womb, their haven of safety. They immediately take more risks, like taking their first breath, and drinking milk for the first time. These are things they’ve never done before. They don’t know what the outcome will be, but they follow their instinct. This risk taking is necessary for survival.
Later on, the importance of risk taking isn’t as clear. We usually aren’t going to die if we turn down a risk. But that doesn’t mean risk taking is actually any less important. We might not die, but we usually won’t grow either, if we avoid risk taking.
Parents are often tempted to step in and prevent our kids from taking risks. We see it as protecting them, removing the stones from their path before they trip on them, keeping them safe. But this desire for our kids to succeed in every way at all costs sometimes overshadows the need for THEM to be the ones spearheading their own success; otherwise, paradoxically, they may have a worry free life with everything at their disposal, but really haven’t succeeded at anything.
When we remove all risks, which usually come coupled with opportunities, from our kids’ paths, we become the primary orchestrators of their lives and actions. If they succeed, it really means WE succeeded, and if they fail, WE failed because, as the primary decision makers, we are also the primary responsibility holders.
But we have already succeeded at childhood. It’s time to let them succeed, and that means allowing them to make decisions for themselves, learn from them, and accept the consequences, whether positive or negative.
Here are 11 ways our children can benefit from being allowed (dare I say even encouraged?) to take risks:
1. When a child takes a risk and succeeds at it, they increase their self-confidence. They are more prepared to face the world. They know they can succeed.
2. Taking risks naturally teach children to reflect. Whether they succeed or not, they begin to take note of what caused them to succeed, or what was missing. This enables them to continually improve their decision-making capacities.
3. Taking a risk empowers a child to be proactive. It is an option, not something the child HAS to do. It’s up to them to make something happen or not. Once they realize how powerful this is, they can harness their freedom to initiate and channel it positively toward personal growth or helping others.
4. Independence. Risk taking is an individual experience. Even if more than one person takes the same risk at the same time, the experience – the thoughts, emotions and reactions that accompany the risk – are unique to each individual. Your child learns how to think and act independently.
5. Risk taking can help keep a child attentive and “on their toes”. Allowing children to take risks can be the best way to keep them safe by enabling them to develop a prudent judgment level. It teaches them to keep their eyes and ears open, for both opportunities and threats. By taking risks, they learn how to react in new situations, and can apply this skill when unexpected circumstances arise.
6. Taking risks helps children explore their ideas and interests. As discussed in Why Parents Should Encourage Children to Make Mistakes, risk taking is closely linked to innovation and creativity. It opens doors that can lead to future success.
7. Children can learn how to make wise choices when they take risks. When a child takes a risk, and is required to follow through with their decision and accept the consequences, they learn how to evaluate ideas they have and decide whether or not an idea is worth acting upon. This level of judgment can be formed by taking risks and personally evaluating the difference between a risk that they would repeat, and a risk they would avoid second time round.
8. Risk taking helps children discover their capacities and limitations. Sometimes, taking a risk and succeeding at it shows a hesitant child that they can do much more than they think; otherwise, a risk that fails shows an overconfident child that their abilities aren’t quite as great as they think. In both cases, the child develops a more accurate understanding of themselves.
9. Taking risks often lead to new opportunities. These opportunities might just be new learning explorations the child hadn’t thought of before, or they could be opportunities related to getting into the school the child wants to attend, or landing their first job.
10. Risks can help children overcome their fears. They learn that the worst didn’t happen. Or maybe it did happen, but wasn’t as bad as they expected. Conversely, risks can also help children develop a healthy sense of fear (prudence).
11. Risks present children with an opportunity to grow in responsibility and learn the importance of follow through and consequences. By taking risks, they are able to learn how their own decisions and actions determine, to a large degree, outcomes and consequences.
Read Part 2 of “Teaching Your Child to Take Risks” to discover 12 ways you can help your child develop risk taking skills in daily life. Come back soon for 3, which will address how to teach your children to effectively assess a risk before jumping in!