In my career as a field studies/environmental tutor, I’ve built a lot of experience working with children in ‘risky’ environments doing ‘risky’ activities. This has made me all the more aware of risks with my own children. At home, we don’t wrap our own little ones in cotton wool, but we use common sense to weigh up the risks/benefits of various activities and environments, and decide accordingly. I strongly believe in exposing children to managed risk in order for them to develop the skills to manage risk for themselves as they grow up. All too often I have seen children and young people who have obviously, for wherever reason, been very sheltered from risk. This is by no means a fault of their parents – we are all just trying to do the best for our children! I believe that it is a result of our modern society morphing into one of blame. People may not take responsibility for their own actions and sometimes seek to blame, or even sue, others when they make a mistake. I have no specific cases to reference as I sit here watching Fireman Sam with Pip, but it’s the sort of occurrence like someone falling off a cliff and then sueing because there wasn’t a sign or barrier! We are so used to seeing warning signs for danger, that we stop looking for danger ourselves. So instead of managing the risks of an activity appropriately in order to be able to reap the benefits, such potentially risky activities might not be carried out at all. Schools are finding it more difficult to take children out on trips, and parents feel like they’ve failed their child if they don’t prevent them from getting scuffed knees.
I do understand. It is difficult to watch Bee teetering atop the beanbag, but I let her… Often wincing as she wobbles! She learns balance and agility, and if she falls she learns how not to do it! And the worst that happens is a bit of a bump on a carpeted floor and a few accompanying tears (and a cuddle and reassurance).
I also have to be quite brave letting Pip loose in the wild or adventure playgrounds and the like. He has hypermobile ankles resulting in him not being particularly stable. He wears ‘special boots’ to help stabilise him, and I often feel like Nemo’s Dad… “We call them his special boots”. It takes a lot to knowingly allow your child take risks, but fundamentally I know it’s for the best… But I do hover close by without taking my eyes off him!
We often go to RSPB Leighton Moss because it’s somewhere I feel I can manage the risk well and can comfortably let Pip roam free. The site is well managed and safe and you’re also never too far from help. We can get a sense of the wild without actually being remote.
You don’t necessarily have to go out or do ‘risky’ things yourself to help teach your child about keeping safe and assessing risk. For example, I cannot help commenting while watching Fireman Sam! “Oh no! Norman, it’s dangerous to put the pumpkin near the curtains!” “Oh dear, Mike should really know better – he could fall off that roof if he’s not tied on!”. And just this morning, Trevor Evans, and his minibus carrying Mandy, Sarah and James, swerved to avoid a sheep in the road (Norman’s pet Wooly, of course). It then almost went off the edge of the cliff! And I found myself saying to Pip “Trevor should have hit Wooly in order to keep the children safe!”. I really said that. I sometime drive a minibus of children around the South Lakes as part of my job… So that is realistically a decision I could have to make! This appears to be working though as Pip often, without prompting, points out risks on Fireman Sam and in real life. I do worry that I’ll turn him into a worrier, and that he could end up so risk aware that he ends up scared.
I hope, as long as we keep managing and taking small risks, that both Pip and Bee will grow up with a healthy respect for danger, alongside an appetite for adventure 🙂