Risky Play Doesn’t Have to be Hazardous

Be careful!

Do you say this to your kids? Probably. Me too! I read an article once that said that phrase will discourage your child from exploring so we shouldn’t use it anymore. To me, that’s a little extreme. Your relationship with your child is unique and it depends on your tone and experience together. For me, the phrase “Be careful” is a sign to my children that there may be danger involved in what they are doing, and I want them to look again or pause to reflect before proceeding. If I think what they are doing is a bad idea, I tell them why, and maybe suggest another option. If you yell “Be careful!”, it might startle your child and cause some fear which then discourages exploration. So while it’s not a “bad” phrase to use, consider what else you could say to have your child carefully consider their surroundings.

How much do you let your child explore freely? What are your fears? iIt’s all just being prepared. Do you know what plants might be dangerous and what they look like? Do you know what to do if you touch them? It’s a simple online search for your local area. You also don’t need to leave the path to see some amazing things, even in the city!

What if they like to climb (most children do!)? Will they fall? Maybe. If it’s not from very high, how bad will it be? A child who has opportunity to test their own limits, to know their own boundaries, is better prepared to make those decisions on their own when you aren’t there to say “No” or “Be careful!”. You can encourage your child and help them problem-solve, but if they decide they feel unsafe, they can back-off and try again another day. If they are frightened, show them you are there to help if needed, but encourage them to try on their own. You are their cheerleader and safety net until they go into the world on their own.

How do you feel about sticks? Some parents are squarely against them, and it’s totally up to you! But sticks one of the best imaginative toys. Its a vaulting pole, or a gun (yes this can be controversial too), or a drumstick or a wand or a staff! There are so many options for play! If you are worried about injuries, then take the time to discuss this before your child finds a stick they absolutely MUST have. What are safe and unsafe ways to play? When should the sticks be put away? Try letting your child think of limits and consequences with you. It’s more likely they will comply to them and gives them a sense of agency when you respect their ideas.

So what if your child does get injured? Will you need clean water to wash an owie and a bandaid? You can bring those! I always carry a backpack if we are walking for a long time (mostly to carry the snacks because grumpy kids are not having fun and neither is mom) —pack it with what you may need. It’s always better to be over prepared!

I’m not advising that you let your child go into a hazardous situation. A hazard means danger. But risk can be prepared for and bring excitement and accomplishment. Know the dangers in the area you play, but remember to let your children lead! Let yourself be sucked into their world of imagination.

Micki Bry

B.Sc., RECE, Co-Chair of Peel-Halton Nature Collaborative

Single mother of 2 boys

My boys climb trees but not too high since they quickly become nervous and come down. My youngest is using his stick as a vaulting pole, the eldest is using his as a drumstick. We have quite the stick collection at home.

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