Risk-taking is an important element of learning. Risking and succeeding and risking and failing can both produce new learning and confidence. How do caregivers balance between free-range and helicopter parenting?
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Steve: 00:33 Supporting risk taking. Risk taking is a component of learning. Taking risk and succeeding can motivate children to seek other achievements. Taking risk and failing can lead to testing new ideas and developing independence. To gain confidence, kids need to try scary things. Bike riding or skateboarding, performing in the school talent show, trying out for a sports team, taking a challenging course, interviewing for an afterschool job. Question for us to explore is how do we as guardians balance between what’s been called a free-range parent, just letting them go and the helicopter parenting always there and controlling.
Steve: 01:26 When I work with teachers around differentiating their support for student risk-taking, I often look at it through three different strategies and discuss moving between these three strategies depending on the student and the risk to be taking. Perhaps these three can give you a way of looking consciously at your responses. I call the first one, totally safe. The second one, safety net and the third one, pushing off a cliff. I can kind of set the stage to look at these three by getting people to think back about how they learned to ride a bike. Some youngsters need to know stepping into a task that it is totally safe, in effect I’m really not taking a risk. I’m learning to ride a bike with someone holding onto the handlebars and the seat. I need to know that they won’t let go. Knowing I can’t fall or crash, I’ll give it a try.
Steve: 02:45 I’m willing to try cutting the board to the right size by using scrap wood instead of the expensive piece of wood that we’ll eventually work with, therefore any mistake can be a throwaway. I’m signing up to audit this course, rather than enroll. If I can’t achieve at a reasonable level, I can drop the class with no record. Sometimes, we need to know it’s totally safe in order to get started and gain some confidence or some comfort with not having initial success. And other times, rather than being totally safe, youngsters need a safety net. A good example of this is found when you go to the indoor rock climbing and you’re supported with extra ropes, or you take that first parachute jump connected to the trainer. Learning to ride the bike this way, my parent may move to just holding onto my seat.
Steve: 03:55 They may let go from time to time, but they stay close enough so that they can catch me if I tilt. or they’ll pick a good time to let go. A grassy knoll, no cars are on the road. I may get a bump or a bruise, but unlikely I can get seriously hurt. I’m recalling that my first performances as a musician were at home to my mom and dad and then we stepped up to playing for relatives, slowly increasing the risk and building our confidence. I call my last step here, pushing off a cliff. You see, I really can’t learn to ride the bike until you let go. Early on, my trust is in my trainer or my supporter. I don’t know that I can do it, but I trust that my trainer knows I’m capable. I’m in effect, riding ahead on their confidence and thus building my own.
Steve: 05:09 I may push my young team to try out for the play at school. I don’t know what will happen, but I have confidence that she has past experiences that will support her handling the outcome. Remember. confidence is built from successes and from working through those times where we come up short of success. As a parent, I need to reflect upon my supportive role. Are my actions leading my youngster to moving along the risk taking continuum? Do I see my youngster building their own safety nets and stepping into increased challenges? Key learning often comes from reflection. Consider sharing some of your examples where you step forward into a risk or a challenge. How did you assess the risk? How did you manage the risk? What internal dialogue did you have with yourself? What did you ask yourself? What did you tell yourself? Share those experiences with your young person.
Steve: 06:27 One of my favorite questions is “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Is that something that I can live with and thus, I should step into the risk? Or, do I need to modify my action and lower the risk of a negative outcome? Making parenting decisions is often a form of risk taking for us. Sometimes we seek to be totally safe, which is needed at times, but it can have a limiting impact on ourself and on our youngster. Often, we build safety nets for our child and for ourselves. I hear stories of parents who have moved here to Switzerland, where I live now, where the culture has expectations of kindergarten students walking on their own to school. I’ve heard new parents telling stories of hiding behind trees and buildings as they follow their young child out of sight until the parent has enough increased confidence to change his or her behavior. For our teenagers to successfully mature to young adults, they will need increasing opportunities to risk. Risk and succeed or risk and fail and recover. In many ways, we as caretakers need to grow with our young folks in our own risk-taking. I wish you success and increased confidence as you grow and risk-taking with your young person. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 08:11 Thanks for listening in folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.