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Teaching Your Child to Take Healthy Risks

by Meredith Gannon, Grade 4 homeroom and humanities teacher
In all aspects of our children’s lives, we want them to engage in new experiences. Our hope is that children will grasp new opportunities, build connections with peers and mentors, and diversify their skill sets. However, taking that first step is challenging.
Reaching out to an unfamiliar classmate, trying a new sport, or attempting the challenge problem in math class all require children to take a risk, and as we know, fear and fear of failure drive our aversion to risk. So, how can you support your child and encourage healthy risk taking at home?

  • Develop a growth mindset. It’s true that we are most often unsuccessful the first time we try something new. This is why it is so important to embrace the gift of failure. Mistakes are valuable because we can learn from them. Knowing what didn’t work will help us reframe and better strategize our next attempt. Books like Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, and Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster are all picture books you can read with you child. The first two titles explain how the brain works and illustrate the positive impact of mistakes. The last title addresses the fear of failure and the way it holds us back from trying new things and engaging in positive experiences.
  • Model healthy risk taking. Did you try a new recipe for dinner or sign up for a new yoga class at the gym? Maybe you recently attended your first community meeting or presented a project at work. Share your experience in a child friendly, appropriate way. State the risk and share what you learned. “I took a healthy risk by cooking this chicken dish. It didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would, but I learned to use a bit less salt next time.”
  • Notice when your child takes a healthy risk and celebrate it. Children take risks without realizing it. Notice these small victories and show your child that you value their efforts. For example, “I love that you took a healthy risk and joined in that game at the park. It’s a great way to meet new people.” Or maybe, “It’s great that you tried to fold that origami figure. You tried something new and more complicated rather than sticking with the figures you know well. Attempting challenges is part of risk taking.” Of course, when you and your child discuss an obvious risk, highlight the value of attempting something new. “I’m so proud of you for auditioning for the play. You really pushed your comfort zone.”
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Nashoba Brooks School is a coed Lower School from Preschool to Grade 3 and an all-girls Middle School from Grades 4 to 8 located in Concord, Massachussetts.