Don’t worry – we’re not talking about running across motorways or eating raw chicken. We’re talking about adventurous play.
The benefits of adventurous play – climbing trees, walking up slides, balancing on walls, cycling quickly downhill, jumping off platforms – are well documented. Taking risks and getting into ‘danger’ is all part of childhood fun, great for kids’ development, and promotes positive mental and physical health.
I’m keen to encourage our three year old to enjoy playing outdoors as much as possible, and build his confidence through being more adventurous. But there are a couple of problems.
Firstly, he isn’t a natural daredevil. Secondly, I’m part of the problem. At times I find myself hovering over him too much or panicking to get him down safely from a ten foot drop.
As Charlie is my first child, he doesn’t have any older siblings to learn this ‘dangerous’ play from and I also need to get over my desire to wrap him up in cotton wool.
So far, I’m employing the following tactics:
See things from his viewpoint
Charlie is still young and experiencing a lot of situations for the first time, so it’s understandable that he’ll sometimes feel nervous. Whether it’s going down the big slide in a playground or jumping off the high side of the swimming pool unaided, it can be a natural reaction for a three year old to think “no, too scary” and need some handholding. I find after a bit of encouragement, once Charlie does something for the first couple of times he realises how much fun it is and that he’s not going to hurt himself – then there’s no stopping him.
It can be easy to use terms like “don’t be silly, it’s easy” or “you’re not being very brave” when trying to cajole young children into doing something for the first time – but it’s important to acknowledge their feelings, not make them feel inadequate or force them into doing something they really don’t feel comfortable doing. I praise brave behaviour and successes, and don’t make a big deal if he can’t or doesn’t want to do something – he’ll get there in his own time.
Talk myself down
OK, so that tree is really big and he’s not climbed up anything that high before – but he got to the top of it OK, and he’ll work out how to get down. And if he doesn’t? Well, then he’ll have a little tumble and end up with a couple of (hopefully) minor war wounds – but I’m totally cool with that. Totally. Honest. Not worried one bit. Nope, not me…
Give out hugs and get them back on that horse/climbing frame/tree
Following on from above, one of the points of adventurous play is that they can and do hurt themselves from time to time. If Charlie falls, grazes his knee or has a little cry, I’ll cuddle and fuss as much or a little as the situation requires (sometimes making a fuss can actually make the reaction to a little mishap worse!) and then try to encourage him back to playing as soon as he’s ready.
Get bigger kids to help
Charlie is always watching and copying older children. Playing with bigger kids is a great way for him to learn, encourages him to try new things and helps him push himself a bit further.
Have some faith
When it comes down to it, most of the time Charlie knows his own limits and abilities. I’ve got to learn to trust him to be able to work out situations himself, as well as learn from his mistakes. After all, it’s giving kids this trust and independence which is one of the main points of adventurous play and will help to instil confidence in them.
How do you feel about adventurous play – does it make you nervous or are you relaxed about it?