A natural part of children’s physical play is engaging in activities that are a little bit scary, challenging and with elements of risk.
Play is a natural behaviour in children worldwide. Play is defined as an activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation. However, there is overwhelming evidence that play is also important for healthy development as children use play to repeatedly try, and repeat skills in all areas of growth – cognitive, social, emotional, and physical. Play has become recognised as so important in the healthy development of children that the United Nations has stipulated it as a right of every child.
But the nature of play, especially in Westernised countries, has changed in recent decades, and our children are experiencing less spontaneity, creativity and independence in play, and more structured, adult-driven, organised activities.
We are trying to make our children’s play experiences as “safe as possible”. However, experts are now saying that imposing too many restrictions on potential risks in play hampers development. Instead, we should be supporting our children in making play as “safe as necessary”.
This means that instead of trying to remove all elements of risk, we help our children to learn the balance between challenging themselves in play and knowing their limits and capabilities. We need to re-assess the balance we set up between risk and play.
There are a number of simple steps adults can take to help their children find this balance and as our children learn through their experiences of some risk in play, they are becoming more self confident, creative, resilient, healthier, happier, socially competent, and better informed about their risk-taking abilities later in life.