Why letting your kids play alone outside is good for them

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Do you let your kids play outside unsupervised as much as you did as a kid? Do you let them climb trees and take as many risks as you did? 

If the answer is no, you’re not alone. Developmental psychologist Mariana Brussoni breaks down the benefits of risky play—and how to determine your child is ready. 

THE NUMBERS:
  • Just 37 per cent of children play outside everyday. While only 7 per cent of kids under 10 are allowed to go out on their own.
THE BENEFITS OF RISKY PLAY:
  • The most fundamental thing kids are missing out on is physical activity. Kids who aren’t allowed to engage in risky play are going to be less physically active. They’ll be inside in front of screens.
  • Research proves that there’s a positive association between risky play and social development. Kids who are allowed to go out, wander neighborhood, meet with other kids and come up with their own games will get more practice at building relationships with different kinds of people.
  • Risky play also impacts executive functioning—the computer in the brain that decides how to set a goal and take the necessary steps to meet that goal. If you’re spending a lot of time in supervised activities where an adult is telling you what to do and how to do it, you don’t get a lot of practice figuring out how to do it for yourself. 
  • Research also suggests that engaging in risky play helps develop risk management skills. If you get to explore the world and figure out how things work, you can also figure out how to keep yourself safe in different situations.
HOW TO TAKE THE RISK:
  • Turn to OutsidePlay.ca, a tool based on beaviour change theory. They can go in there and learn a bit more about what risky play is and why it’s important.
  • Try this exercise with your child at the playground. If something happens, wait 30 seconds before intervening or saying anything, even when you’re tempted. Watch what your child is doing. That will help you step back and learn what your child is actually capable of. Most people are amazed that their child is more than capable of handling various situations. 
  • The key is to let children figure out for themselves what they want to do and how they want to push themselves.If we’re deciding for them, the child doesn’t learn their own limits. 
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CHILD IS INTIMIDATED:
  • Discuss their fears. "What happened? What do you think is going to happen if you fall again?" Try to figure out what the root of the fear is, what is they're really afraid of and how can you break that down for them.
  • Work in stages. Don't go from 0 to 100 when going down slide. Breaking it down into small manageable steps. Get closer to slide first until he’s comfortable. Find a slide that’s lower and gradually build up to that big slide again.
  • Rate them with your own personal anxiety scale. This is a tool therapists use—from 1 to 10. One is no problem. Ten is I would rather die. You want to encourage them to try things around a 7.
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