I posted earlier this week about the importance of risky play for children, but now I want to expand on one specific aspect of risky play that I feel is one of the biggest struggles caregivers have regarding risky play.
When does risky play become dangerous play?
I wish I could give you a straightforward answer, I really do. Because I would love a straightforward answer myself! But there is a lot to this question that we have to analyze ourselves to answer it.
The first question is- what is the experience level of the child performing the task? Age is irrelevant here. Child A can be an expert at climbing a ladder at 18 months and child B can still be learning the concept at 3 years old.
Next, you need to analyze the situation. If they fall or fail at what they are doing, what’s below them? Cement or grass? Hardwood floors or carpet? Is there a corner of a table nearby that you need to be aware of?
My son loves jumping from our couch onto a crash pad on the floor, which is typically an okay activity for him. However, one particular day I noticed a wooden kitchen table chair positioned perfectly next to the crash pad that if he jumped just right, it could harm him. It was a simple conversation, “Hey buddy, do you see this chair next to your crash pad? That might be a problem if you accidentally jump into it! Let’s put it back into the kitchen so we don’t have to worry about it being a problem!” Dangerous play went right back to risky play.
How much and how close supervision does the child need for the specific activity? And how much supervision can you realistically give them at the moment?
My 6-year-old loves climbing our ladder to pick apricots off our tree from the tallest branches. However, she is still fairly new at ladders and it’s well above 6 feet off the ground. This task requires closer supervision and most likely some coaching to get her through it, and if I can’t give her that for some reason, then this risky play just turned into dangerous play and should be avoided. With enough time and practice, she will be more confident and able to climb a ladder by herself, making less supervision not dangerous anymore.
Safe, risky, and dangerous play is always ebbing and flowing. It can change day to day and even hour to hour as children work hard at their play, fail and falter a few times, analyze how they can do better, and try again. And as time goes on, you also become more experienced and better at determining what is risky and what is dangerous for your child.
Really, risky play is just one big science experiment for them to do over and over, analyze, and then learn from. I think if you can allow yourself to step back and foster their risky play, you might be amazed at how much they really can accomplish on their own.