Safety Second (Or Maybe Even Third)

Hi Folks! Here’s new wisdom from Michigan’s Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids . She’s a speaker, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children.  Hey — so am I! L.

Safety Second – 3 Risks Young Kids Need by Heather Shumaker

Sometimes it seems as if SAFETY has become a parent’s only job.  Stop running!  Be careful!  You’ll get wet! Put that stick down before someone gets hurt!

As caregivers, our job is to keep kids safe.  But it’s not our only job.  As the old saw goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Risk is essential.

A “Safety First” mentality can freeze us. If safety is the only consideration, it can actually hurt our kids.  Kids need all kinds of risk to become competent human beings.  Here’s a sampling of the kinds of risks kids need.

Physical Risk

Kids become safer as they gain experience using their bodies. Say yes to tree climbing, wall walking and stick playing.  Show kids how to fall properly (rolling) and avoid real dangers (cliffs; busy streets).

  • Drop ‘Be Careful’  - “Be careful!” is vague and alarmist.  Say nothing or offer specific information: “Look at your feet.”  “You’re near the edge.”  “Someone is behind you.”
  • Don’t rescue  – Don’t lift kids out of a tree if they’re stuck.   Guide them instead: “Where could you put your foot next?”  Kids are partners in their own safety.
  • Check in – Asking “Do you feel safe?” is a good reality check for kids.  It forces them to assess the situation (Gosh, no, I don’t feel safe) and fix it.

The Risk:  Yes, they could get hurt.  Mostly skinned knees.  Major harm is possible, but riding in a car is far riskier.

Social Risk

Risk pops up in friend making, too.  If we insist all kids play with each other (“you can’t say you can’t play), then we’re depriving kids of essential opportunities to practice social skills and navigate friendships.

  • Allow friends to be together  It’s OK for a child to say “No, I don’t want to play right now.”  Kids have the right to choose their playmates. They also have the right to choose to be alone.
  • Rejection isn’t evil   Kids don’t have to like everyone they meet (adults don’t).  They do have to learn how to treat everyone respectfully. Rejection is not necessarily mean – in fact, it can be a great teacher of social skills.
  • Rejection brings resilience  Experiencing a bit of rejection helps kids realize it’s not the end of the world if someone says ‘no.’  They can recover and go on.

The Risk: Yes, they could get their feelings hurt – and learn resilience and empathy.

Creative Risk

Risk comes through ideas, too.  Whether it’s dramatic make-believe games, art or stories, kids need time and support for creative ideas.

  • Art without models -  Ever see a line of identical pumpkin faces tacked up on the classroom wall?  No art or creativity there.  That’s practice with scissors and glue.  Go ahead and demonstrate techniques, but let kids express their own ideas.
  • Seek basic toys  – The best toys serve multiple purposes.  Think blankets, hats, capes, sticks, cardboard, play dough.  Many toys sold in stores are “single-purpose” and can limit creative play.
  • Unstructure the day  - Ideas need space and time.  So do kids!  Free up the day.

 The Risk: Yes, they might make a mistake.

So safety, yes, but keep safety in perspective.  Risk and safety are both parts of being alive. – H.S.

Choose me!


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