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25th Aug 2023

The importance of ‘risky play’ and why expert says ‘parents should back off a bit’

risky play

“It allows for children to become better in terms of motor skills and physical skills”

A child expert has said some parentings styles today are potentially hindering children from developing motor skills and physical skills naturally.

Anyone with little ones will have the natural instinct to protect them from harm, but Professor Ellen Beate insists it’s actually of benefit to let them make mistakes and take risks while playing.

She told Newstalk Breakfast that children need to experience “tickles in their tummy not knowing what happens” and coined the practice as “risky play”.

This is when children intentionally seek and explore risks in their play, Beate explained.

Whether they are climbing on a jungle gym or a in tree, or are rough-housing with a friend, these are among the most basic of children’s activities, and they are the most important.

“It allows for children to become better in terms of motor skills and physical skills,” Prof Beate advised Newstalk listeners.

“It’s also very important for their psychological and mental development – they become better in managing and assessing risk by themselves.”

Prof Beate says she has seen a major decline in risky play among kids and believes that is down to worried parents.

“Adults are now less risk-taking when they become older, and they’re having less kids,” she said.

Because parents are having fewer children these days and are hyper-aware of the risks of harm, they are supervising their kids more than ever before.

Even the spaces designed for children to play have lost their ‘risky appeal,’ according to Prof Beate.

“We’re supervising our kids all the time and we made playgrounds so safe, there’s nothing to explore,” she said.

“We want to keep them safe – but in the long run, we are robbing them of great experiences and learning,” Prof Beate said.

“It’s important that children get used to managing those things from an early age, so step-by-step they can become better at it,” Prof Beate said. “Instead of letting them loose when they 10 or 11 and they have no competence.

“[Parents] should back off a little bit – kids normally manage a lot more than us adults think.

“If we believe in them a bit more and let them try, we will notice that they are really good at managing risks.”