6 Ways to Encourage Children to Take Risks


When my girls were young toddlers, I remember walking on a high bridge that crossed a creek near our home.

There was ample, tall metal fencing protecting us from falling into the water.

But memories of a news story I wrote as a young journalist of a child that drowned haunted my every thought that day and all I could do was rush my curious toddlers along, sweeping them away from their live-in-the-moment tendancy and rush them to safety far, far away from that raging creek. Sweat formed on my hands. Knots twisted in my stomach. I was anxious and agitated.

They could squeeze through those bars and fall in and drown!

I blame my active imagination on the fact that I am a writer, for goodness sake. I see endings of stories before they are written.

Still, I know that we can’t spend our whole lives thinking the worst is going to happen. A lot of time has passed since that day at the bridge. My girls are older and their ideas of risk are greater.

At our house, we’ve been talking a lot about being risk takers lately.

Partly because the girls are at an age where they are starting to experiment with pulling away from us. And partly because they are talking about being risk takers at their school. And partly because I know that I have to let go.

I’ve researched this quite a bit and found a few ideas that have been inspiring to us to live a little deeper and to be more Awesomely Awake as a family. These tools have helped ease some of our self-doubt and helped us realize our children are much more capable to live fearlessly at this point. Might as well let them!

6 Ways to Encourage Children to Take Risks

KEEP AN ADVENTURE JOURNAL — We started a family adventure journal years ago after the movie “Up” came out on video. If you aren’t familiar, the movie encourages adventures both big and small. In our journal, we write the adventurous things we’ve done together. You can keep this in your kitchen drawer, in your backpack or in the car’s glove box. Just don’t forget to keep it close at hand so you remember to make new adventures all the time. Things we’ve added were playing in 20 inches of snow, rode a train, made new friends and raised butterflies and set them free.

MAKE AN “I CAN” CAN — We recently let the girls make “I Can” cans. I printed out strips of I can _____ strips and they fill in the blanks on what they can do. We brainstormed the list on our easel but I was proud of the fact that one of my girls really took this project to heart and came up with her own ideas that weren’t on our original list. They loved thinking about the things they can do and I have a feeling that they will add new “I Cans” to the can all the time. This idea could easily be adjusted for an older age range. Film a video of what they can do. Design a book with photos of all the things they can do. Print your own “I can” strips right here.

LIGHT CANDLES — I’m an avid light-a-candle mom. We light candles for the simplist things that we want to sparkle and let shine in our hearts. It’s often for things we’ve done something brave or tried something new. We light candles for the baby steps we are all taking each week to push ourselves to be risk takers. We recently celebrated when one of our girls stood her ground about wanting to play with different friends at school than her best friend. Her friend was really badgering her and trying to make her feel guilty but she wouldn’t back down. We lit a candle for that moment to show her that she knows what is best for herself.

TALK IT OUT — We talk a lot about what it means to be afraid and how it is really great to try new things. Notice when they take a risk. Point it out to them and see how their faces light up with just the notion that YOU noticed them being brave. It’s a beautiful thing.

RELEASE YOUR OWN FEARS — We absolutely push our fears onto our children. I have a fear of spiders. I try very hard not to show that fear too much. We have to really catch ourselves doubting our children’s abilities because of our self-doubts. Yes, they might fall into the water if they get too close but should we stop them from enjoying that amazing view of standing too close? Yes, they might fall off their bike if they lose control while going too fast but should we lock up their bike? Of course not … risks are risks. They are all possible and they are all worth doing.

LET THEM GO — The hardest of the hard, as your children are pulling away, let them go. It will only prepare all of you for phases to come. Trust that they know their way. Trust that they will do the right thing. Trust that if they do not, you can help guide them on better ways in the future. Some of the ways we do this now is by letting our girls walk well ahead of us on walks and there are times when they’ve rounded the corner and we can no longer see them. Trust. We give them the space they need to even walk on the other side of the street and pretend they are not with us. Trust.

All of these tools give children the strength they need to be on their own as adults. They may still be young but they are taking baby steps to being independent. One of the things one of my girls wrote on her I can _____ paper was that she can go places by herself. I was puzzled by this since she’s NEVER alone. So I asked her,  “Where do you go by yourself?” She answered wisely … “I can go to birthday parties by myself. I was scared but I went and I did it.” She’s right. She was dropped off for the first time last weekend.

I would not have thought of adding that to the list of things she could do but she knew it was a risk that she took, that we both took. I may not ever be able to completely stop worrying but I can certainly give my children the tools they need to find a balance of being cautious yet abundantly, amazingly and awesomely courageous.

In a sense, we’re all working on being fearless around here.

19 Responses to 6 Ways to Encourage Children to Take Risks

  1. I love these ideas, especially the adventure journal and the “I can” can.

    I remember meeting other mom friends at a park when my older son was 4 and afraid to climb anything. I convinced him to try climbing a low tree and I was so proud of him, and then the other moms showed up and scolded their kids not to climb trees. The difference was that their kids weren’t afraid to climb, and so they took bigger risks! You have to tailor your approach to each kid :)

  2. I almost ignored this post because I don’t have this issue with my children, but I love your blog and I just knew there’d be something here for me. Even though I don’t have this issue your point on letting children go and releasing my own fears is something I can take away with me. By the way, have you done something to the blog or am I just sleep dprevived and exhausted? Blog looks great!

    • Amie, I do believe that all kids have fears that we have to help them overcome, often because we have given them those fears. Maybe it’s not a fear of climbing a big rock but of reading in public, playing a sport or trying out a new hobby. And thank you … I did do a little redesign a few weeks ago. I do love it. Have a great day!!

    • Janis — I can see already that letting go is a gift that I’m not yet willing to give completely so you’ll see a lot about that on this site as I continue to keep practicing over and over. Thanks for your perspective.

  3. I just found your blog via Pinterest. I love the idea of an I Can can! I have an almost-4 daughter and an almost-2 son, both of whom tend to be on the cautious side. This is such a positive and no-pressure way to encourage healthy risk-taking and independent behavior! I am excited to see what they put into it. Thanks!

    • Jenny, thank you so much for finding us here. We love cool ideas that bring families together … every day we notice another thing that can be written and stuck in the I Can can. I’m sure you’ll have fun with it. Please visit again.

  4. These are amazing ideas. I will definitely be applying them with my own family and my clients. Thanks so much for sharing on this week’s Kids Co-Op Linky.

  5. What a great post. It never occurred to me to light a candle to commemorate what we want to shine in our hearts. Lovely. Sharing your post!

  6. Gosh I only discovered this today five and a half years since it was written. Better late than never I say! I am an Early Childhood Teacher in Aotearoa/New Zealand aged in my 60s and work with a group of one to two year old children. Our Group Planning at the moment is around Risk Taking so thankyou so much for inspiring me.


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