So, as we’ve already discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, risk taking is beneficial for a child’s development, and there 12 simple ways you can provide your child with opportunities to take risks. You’re still missing one thing: teaching your child how to effectively assess risks before getting involved. Many children are naturally very willing, sometimes too willing, to take risks when given the opportunity. This willingness springs from their natural desire to LEARN. That being said, not every risk is worth taking. Teaching your child how to analyze the value of a risk empowers them to make wise choices regarding what risks to take.
Approach 1: Trial and Error
This approach often works best with kids that learn through doing. You know – the kids that promptly stick their tongues out to touch a frozen pole after hearing that doing so will make their tongue stick. Just to check. These kids are experiential; they learn best through personal experience – hearing something isn’t enough. Does this sound like your child? If so, the best way to teach them how to assess risks is to allow them to take the risk first, and then, in hindsight, discuss their decision and the consequences of their actions. After several discussions, they will begin to pick up what factors determine whether or not a risk is worth taking and can apply this prior to making decisions. When using this approach, however, make sure you keep tabs on what your child is planning to do and make sure you don’t let them embark on any risk that could actually harm themselves or others. Allowing them to learn through experience is good, but not when the experience could include irreparable damage.
Approach 2: Foresight and Analysis
Teaching your child how to assess risks by analyzing the risks with them in advance is the best approach if your child either 1) responds well to receiving advice and/or 2) is very reflective and tends to think before they act.
If this describes your child, here are a few different basic structures you can use to help them learn how to assess a risk and determine whether or not to take it (note: I would not advise using these techniques to evaluate small risks with no long term consequences, but they can be very helpful in helping children evaluate risks such as which hobby or activity they want to pursue, what purchase they want to make with the money they’ve saved, etc.).
1. SWOT ANALYSIS. This structure is commonly used by businesses, but can be used in a simpler way with kids. Your child can complete this exercise with you verbally, or in writing using this SWOT analysis worksheet.
2. ASSESSMENT QUESTIONNAIRE. The goal of this is similar to the SWOT analysis, but this questionnaire provides more specific questions for children that prefer more guidance. They can respond in writing, or orally discuss their answers with you.
- The purpose is worthwhile
- No physical, moral or spiritual harm would come to yourself or others if things go wrong
- You have the resources and time needed to pursue this endeavor AND…
- Chances of success are high
Go ahead and take the risk! If not, look for other solutions.
Finally, whether your child has used the SWOT analysis or the questionnaire, ask them one more question: Is there anything you can do to decrease the likelihood of unwanted consequences? Look at the “weaknesses/threats” section of the SWOT analysis, or the question regarding possible harm and see if you can do something proactively to mitigate negative consequences.
After using either the SWOT analysis or the questionnaire with your child, or allowing them to simply learn through their experience without prior analysis, invite them to reflect upon their experience so they can learn from it for future decisions.